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.

Methods of Making Safe

57. A programme of memorial inspection is a permanent responsibility. As a result, any methods used to make memorials safe then become part of that programme. Not only are the memorials subject to re-inspection but the methods of making safe should also be periodically re-assessed.

58. General considerations for making safe:

  • Are authority assessors fully equipped to deal with all circumstances?
  • Have all appropriate parties been consulted about or informed of the proposed action e.g. staff, management, lair owners, other agencies with a potential interest.
  • If any consents or licences are required, have these been obtained e.g. work on a listed building or scheduled monument.
  • Are the methods of making safe proportionate to the risk and have different options been explored?
  • If employing an external memorial mason or structural engineer to make a memorial safe, is that external contractor appropriately qualified or able to offer an appropriate guarantee for their work?
  • If a memorial requires immediate action to make safe after an inspection, this action may be taken before formal consultation with lair owners. However, if required, statutory consents or licences must always be obtained before direct action to a memorial is taken.

59. There are a range of options used to make memorials safe, and it is unlikely that one single approach can be universally applied even in a single burial ground. There are a variety of factors which may dictate the method of making a memorial safe and will be dependent on the outcome of each memorial inspection.

60. Any method of making a memorial safe should be done in a manner which would allow that memorial to be readily repaired or reinstalled at a future date by any suitably qualified memorial mason or structural engineer. The following represents a number of potential options for making safe. These high level examples are not exhaustive or prescriptive. Any temporary measures put in place should always be followed up by permanent action to make a memorial safe.

Refer to an Expert

61. Input from specialist advisers may need to be considered. This might include seeking advice from local authority conservation advisors, other conservation professionals or structural engineers to assess memorial safety.

62. It is important to note that the act of referral is not strictly a method of making safe, but an important step in the process to achieving it being made safe. In these circumstances, the memorial could be cordoned off in the first instance following referral to another source for assessment and recommendation of further action(s).


63. The long term solution to address all memorials which have failed assessment is to complete a full repair. Any repairs which are carried out would expected to be repaired to current industry standards e.g. BS8415-2018, with an appropriate level of guarantee offered by those making the repairs.

64. Local constraints, potentially imposed by the total cost for large numbers of memorials requiring repair or confirming lair ownership, may mean this is not always possible. However, repair can be the most appropriate and long term solution to ensuring memorial safety and may also be viewed as an effective way to fulfil statutory obligations for any local authority.

Public Notices

65. Install highly visible dedicated public notices, with contact information, at the entrances to and within the burial ground advising of both an inspection programme and the potential risks or hazards arising from unsafe memorials. These can generally advise burial ground users of the need to stay clear of memorials.

66. This can be an effective means of drawing attention to the issue, however, it would not address the requirement to make memorials safe if an inspection identifies that action is required.

Individual Notices

67. Place an individual notice on or next to a memorial which has not passed assessment, advising of the inspection programme and providing contact details for further information. This may be a more acceptable route for individual, smaller memorials which may not present a general risk to ground users. As with public notices, this method alone will not address the need to make the memorial safe. It may also be considered that as with any notice, there is a risk that it may attract attention to the memorial, so a notice should be highly visible to prevent visitors being in close proximity to a memorial identified as unsafe.


68. Using barrier tapes or temporary fencing and attaching a notice to the cordon to prevent access to a memorial of any size which has failed an assessment. This process can address the immediate risk but may require further re-inspection and require follow up with a permanent solution i.e. repair.

69. In the case of larger memorials, sturdy temporary fencing of appropriate proportions may be the most effective means to provide immediate short term protection, pending other methods of making safe or repair. This is another method which may encourage and result in greater public attention of the memorial or the inspection programme.

Sinking In/Trenching

70. Lifting the memorial off a lair then excavating a trench in front of its foundation to then insert the memorial, which is secured with the backfill material. Any trench should be of sufficient depth e.g. the lower third of a memorial, to ensure the memorial does not continue to present a hazard. Such a method can mean some inscribed text may be obscured and appropriate care is needed to ensure the memorial is not damaged as it is moved.

71. A decision will need to be taken by the authority if memorials made safe by this method require future, routine re-inspection. However, this may be considered as a low risk category. This method may remove the hazard and can provide longer term remedial action while enabling the memorial to perform its original function as a grave marker.

Staking and Tying

72. Installing wooden or metal stakes at one or both sides of a memorial which has failed an assessment and then securing the memorial to these by plastic banding. This process may address the immediate concern, but as each memorial can be different, the depth in which stakes are driven into the ground, and therefore the length of the stakes, need be appropriate to the individual memorial.

73. This method may be considered temporary and require further periodic inspection of not only the memorial but also the stakes and banding. Care needs to be taken during this process not to cause damage to the memorial.

Laying Flat

74. Laying flat an unsafe memorial, which has failed an assessment, in a controlled manner and with appropriate equipment. This would be so that the inscribed text is face up and the memorial preferably supported slightly off the ground with a gentle slope to allow water to run off. If and when the memorial is re-erected, this gap can allow it to be lifted more easily.

75. A memorial lying flat can have a greater negative aesthetic impact on a burial ground if a large number of memorials are in this position. Widespread use of this method may also present significant cost implications at a future date, especially where many memorials may have been laid flat and may deteriorate further as a result before a repair can be completed.

Closure of a Burial Ground or Sections of a Burial Ground

76. Ultimately, a means to control risk can be to seek to remove it completely. It may be that completely restricting access to a burial ground, or a section of a ground, achieves this. In practical terms, however, the closure of burial grounds, or sections of them, is unlikely to be acceptable in regards to service delivery with visitors or lair owners and is not recommended as long term action to mitigate risk. Before such a step is taken, other options should be fully explored to more effectively address memorial safety concerns.

77. Any risk presented by unsafe memorials can remain even where a burial ground is fully closed or access is restricted.


Email: katrina.mcneill@gov.scot

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