Burial ground memorial safety: local authority guidance

Guidance to assist local authorities meet their obligations to inspect and make safe memorials and headstones in local authority burial grounds.


Public Notification

23. Bereavement is an emotive experience. Failure to suitably advise lair owners and visitors of the presence, potential impact and related corrective action of a memorial inspection programme of any scale may easily cause further distress.

24. It is acknowledged that there is no guarantee of accurate lair ownership details. For older memorials, the ability to notify lair owners of inspections may be hindered by a lack of up to date records. To mitigate this, other options can be used to make both the public and lair owners aware of any memorial inspection programme, in addition to direct contact.

25. There are many routes to raise awareness through use of digital means e.g. Twitter, Facebook, authority webpages, etc. However, notification of an inspection programme will not be solely restricted to these. Such methods of advising the public via noticeboards, free-standing-signs, local press, etc. can be considered as valid options.

26. In all methods of notification, authorities may wish to provide information about the extent of works and contact details to allow interested parties the opportunity to access more information. Considerations for notification:

  • Install signage, with visual warnings and contact information, in and around the burial ground advising of the inspection process and potential hazards.
  • Write directly to the last known lair owners.
  • Write to local funeral directors and memorial masons. They may hold information about current lair owners or may be contacted by them directly as a result of an inspection.
  • Provide written notification to local authority councillors to ensure they are aware of actions being taken to inspect memorials.
  • Check statutory designations. A burial ground or an individual memorial may be listed or scheduled, and consent may be required to carry out works. For listed memorials, the relevant authority is the planning authority. For scheduled memorials, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) must be contacted.
  • Contact other relevant organisations which may have an interest in the burial ground or memorial e.g. Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), community councils, city heritage trusts, friends groups etc.
  • Place a public notice in the local press advising of the programme.
  • Publish details of planned inspections on the local authority webpage.
  • Circulate a Twitter feed or use of other social media platform.
  • Produce a short information video demonstrating how your local authority assesses and makes safe memorials. This might be permanently hosted on the local authority webpage and shared on social media.

27. Notification can also be considered in conjunction with the methods of making safe. For example, where a memorial is found to be unsafe it might be cordoned off and signposted and/or methods taken for its temporarily making safe for a set period of time, pending contact with the owner, before permanent action is taken to make safe.

Site and Zoning Risk Assessment

28. In order to prioritise a memorial inspection programme effectively, an assessment of the area of local authority control should be carried out. To achieve this, burial authorities would complete a risk assessment of all their burial grounds and from this produce a priority list for memorial inspections.

29. During such a prioritisation process it is essential that each burial authority understands the extent and character of their burial grounds, to effectively undertake a comprehensive memorial inspection programme. These assessments then may be periodically revisited and updated. Considerations for this assessment:

  • Catalogue all burial grounds under your control.
  • The location of the burial ground. For example, is the burial ground in a rural or urban setting, on the edge of a conurbation or in the town/city centre, is the area residential or industrial?
  • Condition of the burial ground e.g. the state of repair of its walls, paths, scope of vegetation coverage etc.
  • Frequency of services. Are there regular interments with new ground available or is the site used infrequently, for example, are there less than five interments per year? Does the site receive infrequent maintenance compared to others?
  • Historic or cultural significance. Is the burial ground, its structures or memorials within a site of historic or cultural significance? If so this may require particular management measures or consent for any works. Inclusion of a short statement of the possible historic or cultural significance for each burial ground may strengthen any site and zoning risk assessment.
  • Layout and topography. The layout and topography of each burial ground will have relevance in formulating a site and zoning risk assessment. Where a burial ground is spread over undulating countryside or subject to ground slippage, soil erosion, subsidence, flooding etc. this may impact memorial stability.
  • Frequency of public use. Is the site active e.g. interments which are regularly visited? Is there a regularly used thoroughfare through the site such as a public path or are there areas of regular attendance e.g. nearby memorials or site of historical or cultural significance?
  • Memorial size, design and method of construction. Is there a large variety in type and dimensions to memorials? Are memorials mostly of a smaller, modern design or are memorials of larger, generally historic e.g. pre-1900 dimensions? Are there a mixture of both size, design and construction?
  • Is the site used for any amenity or other purposes which may increase pedestrian traffic or demand for more frequent maintenance or works?


Email: katrina.mcneill@gov.scot

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