Villagers are trying to block plans to turn a wildflower meadow into a burial ground.
Neighbours of St Wulfran’s Church in Ovingdean are unhappy with plans to expand the existing graveyard into a nearby 3,500 square metre meadow.
They say it is the last wildflower meadow in Ovingdean, but church bosses believe the need for the new graveyard is “pressing”, with the current churchyard “virtually full”.
The new extension would more than double the current graveyard space at the church, which has stood since the 11th century.
Residents are worried that the new graveyard could be used for the deceased from neighbouring parishes that are running out of room in their own graveyards, although the church insists it will maintain the same burial policy with only Ovingdean residents or regular church attendees accepted.
Villagers have stated the meadow was a haven for bees, butterflies and pheasants before the local parochial church council bought the land from Brighton and Hove City Council in 2011.
Residents said the field was then mown and the grass has been kept very short ever since.
Council chiefs said as a graveyard planting will be carried out in the meadow with hedge, wild flower and tree planting.
Almost 40 residents have signed a petition against the plans, while others are planning to write letters of objection ahead of next month’s planning committee.
The issue has raised tensions in the village, with the church responding on its website to an anonymous letter sent round to villagers.
The note says the field is not a rare ancient meadow but has more recently been used for horses and donkeys to graze in.
Resident Anthony Kenny said: “We had reluctantly accepted that more than half the meadow will be lost but we are desperate to keep part of the wild meadow.
“We don’t want a graveyard coming to the bottom of our garden.”
Reverend Peter Wolfenden said: “The church believes that the whole community will benefit from this development and has submitted a planning application for change of use from agricultural to churchyard use.
“We have consulted widely across the parish and our plans take the concerns expressed into account.”
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said: “The church approached the council with their request for further possible burial land.
“The sale of the land to the church was completed to benefit the local community and the price agreed reflects market value based on its use as a burial ground.”