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Closed Churchyards

Maintenance of Closed Churchyards

Cornwall Council maintains more than 90 closed churchyards. Changes to local government funding meant we had to review maintenance standards across all public areas. This has included how frequently the grass is cut in closed churchyards.

Our contractors cut the grass in closed churchyards three times per year. We ensure all sites under our care remain safe. With all main footpaths and entrances are kept clear throughout the year. This is a sympathetic wildlife focused approach. It offers many ecological benefits while maintaining churchyards in a respectful way.

Churches and stakeholder groups can fund extra maintenance for their closed churchyards. We work with many parochial church councils to provide maintenance for local priorities.

The land management responsibility can be transferred to Cornwall Council when a churchyard is closed. The Diocese is not required to make any financial contribution. The Council does not receive any additional Government funding for managing closed churchyards.

Why we maintain closed churchyards

When a Church of England churchyard is closed, the local authority is required to take on site maintenance. If formally requested to do so by the Diocese.

The Council is responsible for features such as boundary walls, memorials, fences and footpaths. Any buildings (including ruins) remain the responsibility of the church.

The parochial church council still owns the churchyard. However, Cornwall Council is responsible for grass cutting, tree works and site safety. The church is not required to make any contribution. The Council receive no additional Government funding.

However, churches and other stakeholder can fund extra work if they want more than our standard maintenance package.

The standard maintenance levels

Our CORMAC contractors cut the grass in closed churchyards three times per year on average. This level of maintenance balances biodiversity with public access.

The first cut is targeted for July, the second in mid-September and the final one before winter starts. CORMAC only clear grass cuttings from closed churchyards after the first cut of the year.

All major pathways and entrances are kept clear of growth throughout the year. We also try to cut and maintain pathways to regularly tended graves. We maintain hedgerows in closed churchyards on a cyclical basis. Unless priority work is required in the interests of public safety. Our tree officer is responsible for identifying, programming and supervising all tree works.

To arrange for a route to be cut, to a particular headstone please contact your local church warden or email CORMAC on the details below.

Maintenance costs

Cornwall Council pays to maintain closed churchyards even if it is still owned by the church

The transfer of maintenance responsibilities is under Section 215 of the Local Government Act 1972. A Church of England churchyard becomes closed to further burials by an Order in Council under the Burial Act 1853.  They can ask for the transfer of maintenance responsibility to the local authority.

The transfer is compulsory. It does not depend on the condition of the churchyard or the local authority’s ability to pay for the maintenance costs.

Making sure memorials are safe

We use qualified inspectors to carry out a safety inspection programme. This monitors, tests and records the stability of all memorials in closed churchyards. The frequency of these inspections is based on risk and the significance of the site. For for closed churchyards these range from every six months to every six years.

If a memorial is found to be unsafe, we may need to lay it down. If this is necessary, we will make every effort to contact the owner of the monument before any action is taken. However, in some cases immediate action is necessary in the interests of public safety.

Any work will be completed in a respectful manner. A sign, asking the grave owner to contact Cornwall Council, will also be attached to the memorial.

Grass cutting in closed churchyards

Frequency of grass cutting

Changes to local government funding meant we had to review maintenance standards for all public areas we look after. This included how frequently the grass is cut in closed churchyards.  We cut the grass in closed churchyards three times a year on average.

You can find out when the grass will scheduled to be cut by emailing Cormac:

Grass cutting before a wedding or event

Wherever possible we will work with the church to accommodate changes to our cutting schedules.  However, any additional grass cutting will need to be paid for.  You must discuss your requirements direct with the church at least six weeks in advance of your event. So, the maintenance team can programme the work.

Cutting a path to a headstone

If you wish to arrange for a path to be cut to a headstone, please contact your local church warden or email CORMAC.

Cleaning after each grass cut 

Our contractors use a combination of rotary mowers and strimmers to cut around memorials, borders and kerb edge sections. They will sweep or blow off headstones following each cut.  However, with over 60,000 memorials to maintain we aren’t able to clean individual memorials by hand. 

It is inevitable that some grass clippings will settle on headstones.  This is weather dependant, though commemorative objects placed on or around monuments will also make it harder to cut and clear grass.  Grass clippings will not cause any damage and visitors are welcome to wipe off their memorials if they wish to. 


Volunteers can get involved with the management of closed churchyards.

Discuss your ideas with your church warden in the first instance.  They can arrange a meeting with a Council representative.  

Or you can email our CORMAC contractors:

The difference between a cemetery and a closed churchyard

A closed churchyard is one that has been closed by order of the Privy Council. The Diocese owns the land, but the local authority is responsible for ongoing maintenance.  In Cornwall this can be either Cornwall Council or a local town or parish council.

A cemetery is not attached to a church.  It can be any place where the deceased are buried. In Cornwall, both Cornwall Council and the town and parish councils can maintain cemeteries.

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