Conservation and management

This section contains information on the following:

Conservation strategy
Care of gravestones
Gravestone repairs

Please note that the sections below refer to materials you can find in the "Free Downloads" section on the right.

Conservation strategy

Prepare appropriate documentation for the graveyard. This includes making a record of each graveyard feature, monument or memorial, preparing conservation and management plans, and identifying any gravestones at risk. Several examples of completed conservation plans are available online. Background reading for preparing conservation plans can be found in Historic Scotland's free booklet Conservation Plans and The Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation prepared by the National Trust of Australia (NSW).

Points to consider include:

All survey and recording work, including recording of inscriptions, should be carried out using appropriate methodologies (go to recording graveyards and gravestones).

Within a graveyard, identify all the 'important' features; including gravemarkers, buildings, gates, enclosures, and flora and fauna that contribute to the significance of the graveyard. An Introduction to Graveyard Recording contains a summary of the range of built features that may be found in graveyards. Many features - or indeed an entire site - may be classified as bearing special interest and protected by law. If your graveyard is listed or scheduled, for example, this will determine the type of conservation work that you can complete and the advice and permissions needed. For more information about working in a listed or scheduled graveyard see Historic Scotland's free guidance leaflet. To find out if your graveyard is listed or scheduled consult Historic Scotland's Listed Buildings of Scotland and Scheduled Ancient Monuments lists on PASTMAP and contact your local authority planning department.

Resources for assessing the historical importance of graveyards include Researching Your Graveyard booklet, The Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation prepared by the National Trust of Australia (NSW), PASTMAP and the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS).

The next stage is to describe an appropriate conservation approach for each important feature. This forms the conservation plan for the site.

The management plan should identify the priorities for repair in the graveyard.

As far as possible, gravestones should be preserved in their original setting.

Special consideration should be given to any abandoned or ruinous structures.

Ensure that all necessary consents, i.e. listed building consent or scheduled monument consent, are obtained before starting work.

Care of gravestones

Key pointers for looking after your gravestone are:

If your gravestone has statutory protection, this will affect what you can do to the stone.

As a general rule, gravestones should not be cleaned except by an experienced conservator. Even cleaning consisting of gentle brushing with a soft bristle brush and rinsing with clean water, has the potential to cause irreversible damage to porous stone. Basic guidance is given in notes developed by the Woodlawn Cemetery (Canada) and Chicora Foundation (USA).

Different stone types are more susceptible to decay. Sandstone memorials are particularly vulnerable to decay and other forms of damage.

Seek specialist advice when dealing with materials other than stone. Historic Scotland have produced free guidance leaflets for advice on caring for monumental bronze and reinstating boundary ironwork. Guidance on cemetery ironwork is also provided by Chicora Foundation.

As a rule, no attempt should be made to realign tilting markers, unless they are in danger of collapse, as this may disrupt adjacent graves and detract from the character of the graveyard. For guidance see notes by Historic Scotland or by the Woodlawn Cemetery (Canada) and the Chicora Foundation (USA).

Seek specialist advice to deal with graffiti especially on porous stone as inappropriate treatment can cause irreversible damage.

Gravestones or gravestone inscriptions should not be painted as this may harm the stone. Where there is evidence that paint was applied as an original feature, seek professional advice from a conservator before re-painting. For more information on the issues involved in caring for inscriptions see Sections 7.4 and 7.5 in The Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation prepared by the National Trust of Australia (NSW).

Take appropriate action with buried or overgrown gravestones. Basic guidance on dealing with vegetation on gravestones and historic structures more generally has been prepared by the National Trust (England) and the Chicora Foundation (USA). A methodology to locate, and record buried gravestones has been developed by the Moray Burial Ground Research Group.

Gravestone repairs

Rather than rectifying a fault, inappropriate repairs can cause further problems. For guidance see Historic Scotland's Practitioners' Guide to the Conservation of Historic Graveyards, The Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation prepared by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and information produced by the National Trust For New South Wales, Woodlawn Cemetery (Canada) and Chicora Foundation (USA).

If your gravestone has statutory protection, this will affect what you can do to the stone.

Stones must be lifted only under specialist supervision. Friable stones are liable to break-up if lifting is attempted.

For repairs to stone, use lime mortar. Hard cement mortars should be avoided.

Fractured gravestones should be repaired using non-ferrous dowels of suitable length and either polyester resin (for clean breaks) or lime mortar (for wider joints).

Where the inscription has been lost from a stone, re-cutting should not be undertaken. A preferred alternative is to position a new plaque, with the text reproduced, in the ground at the front of the original tombstone. For more information on the issues involved in caring for inscriptions see Sections 7.4 and 7.5 in The Guidelines for Cemetery Conservation prepared by the National Trust of Australia (NSW).