Natural burial grounds have become increasingly popular over the last thirty years. The massive increase in the UK population has meant that urban cemeteries no longer have space available for conventional burials.
Baby boomers also have a different attitude towards death and dying. They are searching for a more natural burial that has less of an environmental impact. As a result natural burial grounds began to spring up around the country. But, what are they and what problems do you need to know about?
Natural Burial Grounds are not like a traditional cemetery. Graves aren’t marked with large dominating headstones or vases full of cut flowers. Many natural burial grounds just look like areas of simple woodland with flora that’s natural and native to the area. Graves if marked at all have natural wood or sandstone markers. In many natural burial sites, the only grave markers are trees.
Natural burial sites exist in harmony with nature.
They serve to protect and conserve the natural environment both above and below ground, unlike a typical burial.
Traditional burial methods are extremely damaging to the earth. Instead of biodegradable coffins many coffins contain plastics or use wood from non-sustainable sources.
Human bodies that have been embalmed leech toxic chemicals into the soil. Often people choose to dress loved ones in clothes that are made from non-organic materials instead of natural materials or simple shrouds these stay around for hundreds of years.
Natural burial sites provide a resting place that preserves nature and works with the natural cycle of life. Many natural burial sites focus on enhancing the environment and offer woodland burials where tree planting is preferred to a headstone. Or, green meadows are populated with additional wildflowers.
You won’t find neatly manicured lawns or well-kept marked graves. What you will see in a woodland burial ground is nature. Bluebells, flora and fauna and thriving habitats including suitable species. You will find mature woodland and new coppices and site owners with a passion for woodland management.
If this sounds idyllic it is but not all Natural burial sites are good sites which is why it is important to read the small print and understand what you are really buying.
It’s very important to read the small print to avoid misunderstandings, disappointments and nasty surprises.
For example, you want to dress your loved one in their finest outfit but the natural burial site may only permit clothes that are biodegradable and made from natural materials such as wool, cotton, silk, and linen. Or, you may have purchased a double plot only to discover that double does not mean adjoining plots.
Often people misunderstand the concept of natural burial sites and want to treat the grave like one in a traditional cemetery plot by leaving cut flowers or planting their favourite rose bush in memorialisation of their loved one. This can often give rise to feelings of sadness and upset if the grieving party does not fully understand the rules of the site as you can see from this review of the Woodlands Burial Ground Bristol:
“Horrible, Horrible place ..looks nice on the outside but the grim reality is that it’s just a dumping ground .. very very sad(apart from the Muslim section for some reason?) My Mother and Father don’t even have a headstone .. Just a piece of metal thrown on the grave with their name written in marker pen. Any flowers or ornaments you place down are thrown away unless you buy Woodland’s own supply.”
This person is clearly grieving for their loved one and wants to pay their respects in a traditional way. However, the rules and regulations clearly say “no vases or markers can be left at the grave site.” This is a sad example of miscommunication and a failure to understand what is and isn’t allowed.
Natural burial grounds are a relatively new concept and as such the law is still catching up. Each site will have its own terms and conditions.
Some sites are managed more as commercial businesses with an eye on profit whilst others were born out of a passion to protect the environment and serve a community need such as the Atlantic Rest Natural Burial Site in Cornwall or Brocklands Natural Burial Grounds in North Yorkshire.
It’s important to read the fine print clearly so that you understand the rules and regulations about the actual burial and also about your legal rights with respect to the land or a plot you may have pre-purchased.
For example, most plots are leasehold but the length of the lease varies. Some may offer a 25-year lease with an option to renew at a premium. If you don’t renew the grave site will be renewed and sold again.
Some burial grounds are privately owned and operate as a private company. This sounds great to me, but please think about the future of the site. What happens if the company stops trading? Who will look after the site? Will you lose the money you paid for a plot?
Other natural burial sites are operated as trusts which ensure longevity and protect the future maintenance of the natural burial ground.
The funeral industry is changing and as a result more and more natural burial grounds are emerging. They are a welcome addition to the world. Well-run sites provide a peaceful and tranquil resting place for your loved ones and work in harmony with nature bringing new life with newly planted trees and native flora and fauna. They can be a beautiful thing as they are better for the environment than traditional cemeteries and they minimise the environmental impact caused by embalmed human bodies and coffins that are not biodegradable. But like all new things there are teething problems so do make sure you read the small print.