A CHURCH diocese at the centre of a controversial decision to remove almost all forms of decorations from graves has responded to heavy criticism.

Residents with loved ones buried in the cemetery at St Mark’s Church, Talbot Village, have been up in arms recently after site operator Salisbury Diocese left hundreds of notes on graves ordering the removal of all decorations – including some fresh flowers – in accordance with their regulations.

The order has left many residents ‘distraught’, with two families approaching the Echo to get answers from the Diocese to determine why the decision had been taken and what regulations had been breached.

More than a week after first leaving the notices, the organisation has provided the Echo with a statement.

Bournemouth Echo: Decorated graves with removal notices at St Mark's Church, Talbot VillageDecorated graves with removal notices at St Mark's Church, Talbot Village

Diocese of Salisbury said: “We recognise that whilst the Diocese needs to enforce regulations, the issue of graveyards is very sensitive indeed.

“The regulations are designed to ensure that graveyards are a place where people from throughout the ages can find peace and solace as they remember loved ones, whilst also being a place for reflection and prayer.

“Graveyards are also, as stipulated in the regulations, an historic record of successive generations, a home for funerary monuments of architectural and aesthetic excellence and a setting for the church itself. As such they are different in nature from municipal cemeteries.

“The regulations are also designed to ensure the churchyard is kept in an orderly fashion which assists maintenance work (such as grass cutting) and ensures the safety of those visiting the churchyard.

“As a Diocese, we are currently working with the Chancellor of the Diocese on the question of whether silk flowers might be permitted for a limited period of time – recognising that even these become worse for wear after a while.”

Bournemouth Echo: Note left on grave to remove all articles at St Mark's Church, Talbot VillageNote left on grave to remove all articles at St Mark's Church, Talbot Village

Both families who approached the Echo said they were not made aware of the regulations when they purchased their plots more than 20 years ago.

The Diocese also told the Echo that all graveyards attached to Church of England sites are subject to regulations which are updated “periodically”.

When the Echo asked to view the latest regulations, those given were from 2016. The families who approached the Echo were not informed of any regulation changes in 2016.

A section of the regulations reads: “Memorials in the shape of a specific object, such as a heart or boulder; and mementoes and objects such as statues, toys, wind chimes, photographs and candles, must not be fixed to, hung upon or placed with a memorial.”

However, no explicit health and safety reasons for this are given except to ensure there is no “danger when mowing”.