Churchyards for London
There is no better opportunity to care for the natural world than looking after our churchyards, so close to our own doorsteps. This is an important part of caring for God’s Creation.
The Diocese’s principal vehicle for the care of churchyards is our long-term Churchyards for London programme.
There are almost 480 churchyards in the Diocese of London (about the same number as churches, but some churchyards are detached from any church, and some churches do not have churchyards).
Churchyards include graveyards, and any significant curtilage around a church. They also include numerous gardens. Many are managed by local authorities like small parks.
The day to day maintenance of most churchyards is devolved to local authorities, but ultimate responsibility – for example, for safety – rests with the legal occupier which is the the Parochial Church Council.
Churchyards for London
In partnership with the Dioceses of Southwark, Chelmsford and Rochester, the Diocese of London developed a project to survey the fauna and flora, habitats and ecology of churchyards across Greater London.
This survey was called ‘Churchyards Ecology Survey’, and was Phase A of a longer term project under the banner ‘Churchyards for London’.
AECOM Infrastructure and Environment UK Ltd were the appointed ecologists to the project.
A scoping study of all 998 churchyards and church gardens across Greater London was undertaken. Of these, 556 are of non-negligible size and have some green space or trees. This work was followed by detailed desk study work, and a series of visits. Pending further funding, more of this work remains to be completed.
Phase B, projected to follow our Churchyards Ecology Survey, is hoped to include three themes:
- Churchyards for communities
- Churchyards and heritage
- Churchyards for biodiversity.
After research which was generously supported free of charge by the London Records Centre, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL), an initial sample of 50 sites was selected for more detailed study. This sample was later expanded to 90 churchyards, from all round Greater London.
Fifteen churchyard sites were visited in 2013, 10 more were visited in 2014, then 6 more in 2015 – 31 sites visited so far. 25 more visits were projected at that time, funding permitting.
Specialist surveys of birds and bats were also undertaken, by Dr Alison Fairbrass of University College London, with bird IDs by Andy Lester of A Rocha UK.
Lichens were surveyed by Ishpi Blatchley of the British Lichen Society.
Already we have learned that:
- London churchyards add up to an estimated area of some 270 Ha, or 1/6th of 1% of the land area of Greater London.
- The most obvious feature of churchyards is the number and density of trees. This richness of trees may be similar to surrounding properties. In other areas, churchyards are densely populated with trees while their surroundings seem barren. This bodes well for the capacity of churchyards to act as refugia and stepping stone habitats.
- The ecological potential of these sites appears disproportionate to their size, after considering their distributed locations and connectivity with other green spaces.
- The range of species observed within a 0.5 km radius of just 50 sites bears witness to this – more than 200 significant species on GiGL’s database; and no fewer than 114 designated sites within a short distance.
- A total of 272 species of higher plants were recorded in the first 15 churchyards visited. This excludes an exceptionally rich catalogue of lichens, and animal species which include at least seven species of bats!
Interim reports were made to parishes following the visits from 2013 to 2015.
A major report is then envisaged on the whole project.
Funding is needed for remaining work. £60K is the target for the surveys and reports.
Works affecting trees in churchyards are permissible depending on which of two lists they come under.
- Under the first list, including various minor works, no permission will be needed.
- If less minor, tree works may come under a second list, for which permission is required from your Archdeacon.
Guidance from the Church Buildings Council should be followed. The Diocesan Advisory Committee should be consulted, via the Parish Property Support Team.
Major works involving trees in any churchyard will still require faculty permission, same as other works to a church or churchyard.
Beauty in Tranquillity
In July 2015, a major conference on our churchyards took place in St John’s Wood Church. This was organised in partnership with the national charity Caring for God’s Acre.
Presentations from the day may be downloaded from this page, below.
A first report on Churchyards Ecology Survey Phase A was published in British Wildlife Magazine in October 2018. A copy may be obtained from the Head of Environment and Sustainability.
Environment and Sustainability, front page.
Head of Environment and Sustainability
Parish Property Support Team.
Faculties, changes and repairs.
Wildlife, ecology and biodiversity
Churchyards and Wildlife
Trees in Churchyards.
Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL)
British Lichen Society
British Wildlife Magazine.
Beauty in Tranquillity