Caring for “God’s Acre”

No one cares for “God’s Acre” in England and Wales in quite the same way as a Shropshire-based national conservation charity.

The area of one acre around a church for burial was first laid down in 943 by the Welsh King Hywel Dda, and by the end of the 10th century “God’s Acre” was being marked by wooden crosses in churchyard corners.

The fittingly named Caring for God’s Acre charity now helps to care for churchyards and burial grounds of all kinds, which are usually owned by churches or local authorities…neither of which, these days, have the finances, time or resources to truly maintain countless acres of unofficial nature reserves.

There are an estimated 20-30,000 such burial grounds and cemeteries in England and Wales - scattered amongst towns, cities and country parishes. Many have remained virtually untouched and unchanged for generations, allowing plants to grow and wildlife to flourish alongside historic monuments and memorials - and creating living sanctuaries within the hearts of communities.

The work of Caring for God’s Acre is all about sharing its vision of enhancing and conserving burial grounds and cemeteries that are often ancient sites, full of life and a haven for nature. The charity encourages to get people to think about using them for activities and learning, and helps them realize what they could do in these remarkable green spaces.

Churchgoers, cemetery managers, teachers and specialist interest groups have always been key target groups for the charity. But it’s the general public who might now hold the key to the long-term future to these burial sites and cemeteries.

They are, says the charity, places to go to in search of nature, local history, community involvement, peace, and tranquility.

Nature conservation, of course, is a form of land management which replaces neglect with sympathetic forms of conservation. Old churchyards are hidden gems - special places, filled with many treasures, from magnificent yew trees to tiny lichens; old headstones to ancient stonework. The work of the charity focuses on conserving these treasures, and protecting these historic places for present and future generations to enjoy.

While the primary function of any burial site (to be a pleasant place for quiet reflection) is never forgotten, the volunteers which the charity is able to support can acquire new skills, work in picturesque surrounds in the company of like-minded people, while caring for these sites.

The charity can also help to advise local groups to survey and record, prepare site plans, create an annual activity plan, raise funds, and gain all necessary permissions for the work that’s needed.

And they can help guide them through the management requirements of a burial ground - starting with the something as simple as the general management of the site’s grasslands.

The charity also encourages volunteer groups to draw attention to some of the more interesting aspects of these miniature nature reserves, and to display information or install benches in quiet areas.

Caring for God’s Acre’s four-year national project has attracted the support of HRH The Prince of Wales, Sir Roy Strong, Professor David Bellamy Lawrence Banks CBE and the Right Reverend Dr Alan Smith - as well as Heritage Lottery Funding for regional conferences, specialist heritage skills training days, advice materials, and a collection of 15 case studies.

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