MORE than 1,000 headstones at cemeteries across the county have been made safe as part of a long-term East Lothian Council project.

Local authority staff have been working throughout the winter at various cemeteries in the county to ensure that headstones, some dating back hundreds of years, are not a risk to the public.

East Lothian Council manages 35 churchyards and cemeteries, which together contain about 28,000 headstones and memorials.

About 8,000 of those require some form of action to make them safe or safer and avoid the threat they could topple over, particularly in adverse weather.

A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council told the Courier that “about a fifth” of the headstones had already been successfully targeted.

The work sees the local authority “take down the top sections of loose memorial” and “bury the bottom” of the headstones, approximately one-third, into the ground. The approach means that any danger to the public – and damage to the stone – is successfully avoided.

The scheme will also ensure the inscription can still be read and people can safely visit and tend to graves.

Last November, when the scheme, was announced, Councillor Norman Hampshire, the local authority’s spokesman for housing and the environment, welcomed the move.

He said: “This project is a significant undertaking for the council and at best we will only manage to make safe around 1,200 memorial headstones a year.

“Sites will be dealt with on a priority basis based around matters such as number of visitors, occasions of vandalism, severity of condition of individual memorials and proximity to paths and roads.

“The full programme of safety work is likely to run over a period of five or six years, with most activity during the winter months when staff have more time available to deal with the problem. As many of the unsafe stones are of considerable age, we don’t have records of family to advise about the work required. However, signs will be placed in each cemetery where work is being proposed as far in advance of the work starting as possible.”

Work on the programme is expected to slow down over the coming weeks, with the staff tasked with maintenance turning their attention to a summer programme, which will include parks. The project will resume next winter.