Religious leaders have defended their plans to develop a wildlife area in a West Norfolk village’s churchyard, amid opposition from some residents.
Officials and volunteers in Gayton are working with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust on a conservation programme in the grounds of the village’s St Nicholas Church.
But some parishioners are unhappy with the scheme, which they say is inappropriate for an area where people’s loved ones have been laid to rest.
They have also claimed that as many as 30 graves are in the area set aside for the project.
However, church officials have denied the accusation and insisted no graves will be affected by the scheme.
The project grew from a presentation given by the trust in the spring about ways in which the ground could be developed to benefit wildlife.
It has also included work with local community groups, such as the village’s Brownies, who have developed a mini-beast hotel there for insects.
But critics have claimed the site is not being properly maintained and should be restored to its original state.
One resident, Ann Hendry, said she had spoken to at least 50 villagers who are unhappy about the scheme.
They believe the work is inappropriate for a site where people’s loved ones have been buried.
She said yesterday: “It shouldn’t be allowed. We want the churchyard to be kept as it was. It’s making the churchyard look very untidy.
“Volunteers have been working in our churchyard for decades and it’s always been kept immaculate.”
Mrs Hendry claims she counted 30 graves that were included in the grounds set aside for the wildlife area.
And she fears the area will be allowed to expand further in the future.
But the church’s priest-in-charge, the Revd Jane Holmes, insisted the wildlife area, which covers part of the edge of the churchyard and an area of ground inside, would not cover any of the graves and would not be allowed to become any larger.
She said: “We understand there are concerns and people want their loved ones’ graves to be kept neat and tidy. That’s what we want as well.
“It will be managed. It will be cared for and it will enhance the churchyard.”
Revd Holmes admitted there had been some problems maintaining the churchyard to normal standards this summer, following the loss of a contractor employed to strim the area and during a £200,000 project to repair the church roof.
But she said contractors were now in place to ensure the site was fully maintained.