Biodiversity Action Plans
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Rio Earth Summit, considered the urgent problems facing the environment and the need for sustainable development. One of the major outcomes of this summit was Agenda 21, which among many objectives required each nation to conserve biodiversity and to involve local communities in all aspects of developments including conservation. The UK was one of many signatories.
In 1997 the London Biodiversity Partnership was formed, and, in co-operation with the London Wildlife Trust, a plan of action was established. The Mayor of London published a Biodiversity Strategy. All the initiatives of local planning authorities, together with programmes run by Natural England and other NGOs contribute to a UK strategy.
The aims of the London Biodiversity Partnership in relation to churchyards and cemeteries were established as follows:
- To develop a strategic approach to the protection, management and enhancement of the nature conservation value of cemeteries and churchyards
- To respect the primary purpose of cemeteries and churchyards, which is that of burial and as a space to accommodate grieving visitors, whilst sensitively promoting their nature conservation value
- To secure the involvement of all London’s communities in the conservation of churchyards and cemeteries.
It continues: "Cemeteries and churchyards make a significant contribution to the provision of urban greenspace in London, offering a quiet sanctuary for both people and wildlife. They therefore represent a real opportunity for new kinds of conservation and green space policy…"
No London churchyards are at present classified as being of Metropolitan Importance. However, at least five churchyards and cemeteries in the Diocese of London are included in Historic England’s “Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest,” and many others are within local planning authorities’ Conservation Areas. St John’s Wood Churchyard is designated by Natural England as a local nature reserve. The potential exists for any churchyards with exceptional fauna or flora to be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but as far as is known, there are no such designations at present in the Diocese.
In 2001 a House of Commons Select Committee Cemeteries Report recommended that cemetery managers should evaluate the biodiversity potential of their cemeteries and manage accordingly.
Action being taken
The scope of Biodiversity Action Plan covers a huge range: from a single population of one species, a habitat, a borough, up to the entire planet. Many areas have a biodiversity action plan for the borough with broad conservation objectives and many additional biodiversity action plans, which detail the management of sensitive sites and vulnerable species.
The London Biodiversity Action Plan set itself the following three objectives:
- To protect the biodiversity interests of London’s churchyards and cemeteries
- To promote conservation management in cemeteries and churchyards in London
- To promote the biodiversity value of churchyards and cemeteries to the wider public and to express the important role they play in the quality of life for Londoners.
The Diocese of London, as a significant and responsible landowner, needs to be responsive to local concerns and commitments. This will require liaising with the various organisers of the biodiversity action plan process in every borough in which land is held, and feeding information back to the volunteers who manage churchyards and burial grounds. This is necessary if the conservation potential of each site is to be fulfilled.