Living Churchyards

ChurchyardAs the countryside in Britain becomes more industrialised and urbanised, there are fewer places for wildlife to live and wildflowers to grow. But there are tiny areas in every village, town and even city that are holding out against the onslaught.

These are churchyards, and in some parts of the country they are the only protected eco-systems in their area where remnants of the local flora and fauna can survive.

The powerfully-named ‘Living Churchyards’ project is not so much a vision of the dead rising up as the dead providing sanctuary for species whose living space had been cut back.

Now more than 6,000 British churchyards run their small plots of land as sacred eco-systems – without pesticides, and mowing the grass only once a year – ensuring that birds, reptiles, insects and bats can thrive.

This is an example of restoring something that has always existed – the local churchyard – as an embodiment of the church’s core teachings about respecting nature.

The scheme has been outstandingly successful for several reasons. Firstly because it immediately makes sense, secondly because it is simple to execute, thirdly because it is theologically sound and fourthly because it enables millions of local people, through churches, schools and community groups, to be involved in a manageable environmental project.

The scheme is also spreading to municipal cemeteries, as well as to other faith groups in Britain – some Muslim and Hindu communities are working along similar lines.

St. Andrew's, Kenn, ExeterIt has brought together statutory bodies concerned with nature, heritage and the formal running of church sites.

For further details on how you might transform your own local churchyard into a Living Churchyard, please visit Caring for God’s Acre, working across England and Wales.

Further links

Eco-congregation* Module 09 – Churchyard conservation

Eco Church* resources (click on Land in the right-hand column)

Shrinking the Footprint

Cornwall’s Living Churchyards Project**, a joint initiative between Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Diocese of Truro

Living Churchyards and Cemeteries: The Dorset Scheme, with the Dorset Wildlife Trust


* Arocha replaced Eco-congregation with a new Eco Church scheme early in 2016. The old Eco-congregation site is available in the Wayback Archive, and we thought the old resources might still be useful.

** Also old but available in the Wayback Archive.