Officials behind a proposal to extend a 1,200-year-old burial ground in the North York Moors are optimistic the Environment Agency will lift its objection to the scheme.

The government body responsible for protecting the environment has raised concerns over plans to transform a farm field into a cemetery beside grade II* listed Church of St Hilda’s, in Ellerburn as it is on a principal aquifer and Groundwater Source Protection Zone for a public drinking water supply.

The agency has called on the North York Moors National Park Authority to refuse an application to change of use of the land, beside the Saxon church, some parts of which date to 850.

Planning papers state the proposal involves an 40m by 72m extension to the west of the existing churchyard to enable burials to continue in the rural community.

The documents state the existing graveyard, while not having gravestones throughout, has been a burial ground for over 1,200 years and that “every

interment finds evidence of previous occupation”.

The application states: “The decision as to what happens at the end of one’s life is a personal choice, and one which often evokes strong feelings both for the person involved and their families and friends.

“It is often a difficult decision to make, but it is important because it is a person’s final resting place. Those who choose burial over cremation will be most distressed at the idea of lying for eternity in a place which means nothing to them and was not where they wanted to be.

“Many people will choose to be buried in a place with which they have a connection, whether it be by birth, ancestry, childhood connotations, or simply a place they fell in love with at some time in their lives.”

The documents state proposed extension would allow burials to continue at Ellerburn for the foreseeable future, with additional capacity of full size burial plots, some of which could be used as family graves containing up to three people, with additional space for ash interment and smaller graves.

In response to the proposal, the Environment Agency said the proposed

cemetery development could pose “an unacceptable risk of pollution of

groundwater”, and called for further information to ensure the protection of

groundwater could be achieved from this development.

Following the objection, church officials highlighted that “burials have occurred in this existing churchyard for at least 1250 years with no

adverse effects”.

They added: “This proposal is not for a new cemetery, but a small extension.”

In addition it has been confirmed the proposed extension would not be within 10m of the nearest land drain, 50m of any well, spring or borehole or within 250m of any well, spring or borehole where the water is intended for human consumption or used in food production.

An agent for the church said he was hopeful confirmation over water sources in the area would “mollify” the Environment Agency.