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.

Important Considerations

Historic Burial Grounds and Memorials

87. Many burial grounds contain multi-phase historical evidence in the form of historically significant memorials, buried archaeological remains of earlier structures, the upstanding remains of former churches and the evidence of the local populations which supported them. Many of these continue to retain important historical associations for local and wider communities today. Some burial grounds or memorials within them are designated as being of national importance, for example as scheduled monuments or listed buildings.

Scheduled Monuments

88. There are numerous burial grounds included on the schedule of ancient monuments in recognition of their national importance. Information about which burial grounds are scheduled can be identified via the online search tool Pastmap https://pastmap.org.uk/map. It is a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised works, or to allow unauthorised works to be carried out, on a scheduled monument. This is set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

89. Scheduled monument consent is the mechanism by which HES ensures that any changes to monuments of national importance are appropriate and sympathetic to their character. It helps to protect what is a rare and unique resource. Further information can be found here https://www.historicenvironment.scot/advice-and-support/applying-for-consents/scheduled-monument-consent.

90. Most works on scheduled monuments require scheduled monument consent from HES. This includes repairs and many conservation works. Works requiring consent are defined as:

  • any works resulting in demolition, destruction or damage to a scheduled monument,
  • any works for the purpose of removing or repairing a scheduled monument or making alterations or additions,
  • any flooding or tipping operations in, on or under land where there is a scheduled monument.

91. Some types of works do not require scheduled monument consent as they are deemed to have consent under the terms of the Ancient Monuments (Class Consents) (Scotland) Order 1996. Works covered under class consents include some types of ploughing, emergency works and works carried out as part of a management agreement. Of particular relevance are Class V works, which are those that are urgently necessary in the interests of health or safety. Such urgent works might include:

  • erecting masonry supports to prevent collapse,
  • the fencing of an area of unstable memorials,
  • other minor works where there is an immediate threat to the public.

92. Such works are covered under Class V of the Class Consents Order, provided that the works are limited to the minimum measures immediately necessary. You must notify HES of any works carried out under Class V.

Listed Buildings

93. HES list buildings or man-made structures of special architectural or historic interest. Listing is the way that a building or structure of special architectural or historic interest is recognised by law through the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior. Listing can cover structures not mentioned which are part of the curtilage of the building, such as memorials in a burial ground or the burial ground itself.

94. There are a significant number of burial grounds across Scotland which may carry a HES listing and therefore the memorials would be included in this listing. In the context of urgent works, the historic significance/heritage values of a listed memorial should, where possible, inform the options for making safe. However, there may be situations where urgent works for health and safety purposes will need to proceed immediately. The need to carry out this work may require late consent, and all actions should be recorded to ensure that they can be justified if required.

95. Local Authorities are responsible for determining whether Listed Building Consent (LBC) is required. Where LBC is required and it relates to a Category A or B Listed building the local authority is required to consult with HES prior to reaching a view.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

96. In Scotland, there are over 21,000 war graves and commemorations. Where there is a known burial location, war graves are marked with either the Commission's standard war pattern headstones which are easily recognisable, or with private family memorials, which vary in size, shape and design. These private family memorials are not immediately recognisable as war graves due to their varying designs, so it is important that burial authorities understand the scope of the CWGC's commitment.

97. There are over 5,200 war graves in Scotland commemorated with a private family memorial. If any burial authority is unclear whether a particular lair is a war grave, clarification from the Commission can be obtained. Where a standard pattern Commission headstone is not appropriate or there is no private family memorial, the Commission may place one of its other standard pattern markers.

98. The Commission is the lair rights owner for a number of war graves in Scotland. However, some lairs are abandoned, or are owned by the family. The Commission is still responsible for all war graves, notwithstanding lair rights.

99. The Commission regularly inspects all war graves to ensure that they adequately commemorate the war casualty. War graves commemorated with private family memorials are inspected to ensure that they provide adequate commemoration. The Commission does check the stability of its headstones as part of its inspection cycle of all war graves on a 4 to 5 yearly basis but local authority burial authorities remain responsible for ensuring the safety of their burial grounds for visitors.

100. Burial authorities may be obliged to inspect all headstones in their respective burial grounds more frequently, so inspection by the Commission does not absolve a burial authority's obligation to complete such testing of all memorials.

101. Whilst the CWGC actively ensures that standard pattern headstones are repaired and replaced as required, the Commission cannot operate such control over private family memorials, many of which are nearly 100 years old. Therefore, the Commission may engage with burial authorities to ensure the safety of private memorials and to ensure those casualties continue to be commemorated in perpetuity.

Bespoke or Unauthorised Memorialisation

102. Although not strictly considered as part of a memorial inspection programme, issues may arise in regards to maintenance, health and safety considerations and, possibly, aesthetics arising from unauthorised memorialisation. This is represented by memorials where additional fences, coping stones, solar lights, etc. are placed by the lair owner or others.

103. Where such memorialisation is not permitted due to the impact upon any inspection process or other ground maintenance, due consideration must be given by lair owners to relevant burial ground regulations set by the authority. It is a burial authority's responsibility to uphold these regulations and make lair owners aware of their duty to these.


Email: katrina.mcneill@gov.scot

Back to top