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Consultation Paper on Death Certification, Burial and Cremation (Scottish Government 2010)

Submission from ALGAO:Scotland

Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Review CRESID No 1233
Kevin Wilkie
Health Protection Team
Area 3ES
St Andrew’s House
Scottish Government Edinburgh

20 April 2010

Dear Sirs

Consultation Paper on Death Certification, Burial and Cremation

ALGAO:Scotland represents Local Authority and National Park archaeological services in Scotland and is part of the UK-wide organisation, ALGAO:UK. We welcome this opportunity to comment upon this Scottish Government consultation and wish to offer the following comments and recommendations. We are responding only in respect of Section 3 Burial and to relevant questions within this section, as we consider this section to be the most relevant to our archaeological interests.

General Comments

This consultation document proposes some fundamental changes to burial practice and to the right of sepulchre which currently exists in Scotland. Many of Scotland’s burial grounds are of historic and archaeological interest, and we are disappointed that we were not asked at an earlier stage to make an input to the deliberations which produced this consultation document.

We are concerned that there is no mention of the appropriate treatment of human remains which will be disturbed by re-use of burial grounds and lairs, in particular how reburial will/should be handled. Several of our members are aware from cases in which they have been involved, that disturbance of graves, even in historic graveyards, can be a very sensitive issue for the public, regardless of whether they actually have any relatives buried there or not.
Appropriate reburial of exhumed remains with appropriate ceremony (whether religious or not) is an issue that crops up from time to time.

We also wish to point out that in many pre-1856 burial grounds, there may be no clear lairs. It is not always the case that burials exist where they are meant to exist. The alternative is also true - they may exist in historical burial grounds in areas where they are not expected.

Although paragraphs 83 and 84 of the consultation paper purport to cover historic environment matters, we do not feel that sufficient consideration has been given to the safeguarding of undesignated historic environment assets within burial grounds, particularly archaeological assets and unlisted memorials. In particular there is no mention of the need to consult with Local Authority archaeologists in respect of any future re-use or deepening of lairs. Consultation with Historic Scotland is mentioned in paragraph 83, but their role is solely in respect of consultation on designated assets, for example Scheduled Monuments, Listed
Buildings etc, as set out in paragraph 83. Many graveyards do not have such designations, but may nonetheless contain significant archaeological remains, such as evidence of earlier churches, presence of older burials, and grave markers of earlier date, whether visible or not.

Question 21. Do you agree that new legislation should be introduced to regulate all local authority and private cemeteries?
Yes. Features and deposits of archaeological interest may exist in both Local Authority and private cemeteries.

Question 23. Are there any other factors in connection with headstones or memorials which should be taken into consideration when taking forward legislation?
Not all significant headstones and memorials are protected by scheduling or listing. Inappropriate treatment of headstones and memorials by burial authorities can be a significant factor in their deterioration.

Question 24. Should there be re-use of graves with appropriate safeguards?
We have concerns about this proposal in respect of historic burial grounds.

Appropriate safeguards require to be put in place for undesignated historic
environment assets, including archaeological assets and unlisted memorials, whether currently visible or not. These safeguards will not be necessary for all burial grounds. Our members are able to identify the burial grounds which are likely to raise the most issues.

Question 26. Is the 'lift and deepen' method an acceptable use of burial space?
We have some concerns about the ethics of this proposal from a public point of view, but our main concern is the same as for Question 24 above - appropriate safeguards require to be put in place to protect undesignated historic environment assets, including archaeological assets and unlisted memorials, whether currently visible or not.

Question 29. It would be helpful to know whether particular methods of re-using graves should be prescribed, or whether burial ground operators should be free to adopt whatever method appeared appropriate to local circumstances taking account of local consultation and the views of family or descendants?
Paragraph 83 makes mention of it being good practice to consult local history/genealogy groups particularly where historic environment sites are undesignated. It would also be good practice to consult the Local Authority’s archaeologist, who may not actually be based within the Local Authority itself and therefore not necessarily built into current consultation practices by burial authorities. We recommend that any future legislation and/or guidance for the re-use and deepening of lairs in burial grounds needs to include a clear instruction to consult the Local Authority archaeological service. We would therefore advocate that particular methods of re-using graves should be prescribed so that appropriate safeguards/best practice may be put in place to protect undesignated historic environment assets, including archaeological assets and unlisted memorials, and also to ensure the appropriate treatment of exhumed human remains.

We note that in paragraph 83 “Local authorities are encouraged to develop conservation strategies for their historic graveyards so that they can manage them in an informed way that balances all interests, and so that they can recognise what designations affect specific graveyards or structures.” We would like to point out that it is not only designations which need to be considered, but that conservation strategies should be developed for the full range of historic environment, and also ecological interests, in graveyards. We recommend that this may be a suitable subject for a future Historic Scotland guidance note to cover both designated and undesignated historic environment assets within graveyards.

Question 36. Do you agree that if re-use of graves occurs using the 'lift and deepen' (or 'dig and deepen') method, electronic records should be kept and made readily available to the public?
We consider it to be essential that electronic records of any changes to lairs should be kept for archaeological purposes as well as for public information.

Paragraph 97
If an application for blanket exhumation is being considered to allow cemetery re-use, there requires to be provision to consult more than environmental health officers and Historic Scotland, as recommended in this paragraph. There should also be a requirement to consult Local Authority archaeologists to ascertain whether there is a potential archaeological interest in the burial ground. This will not be covered by consulting Historic Scotland alone.

Yours faithfully

Carol Swanson
Chair ALGAO:Scotland

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