Martin and Amy House – Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground

Martin House from Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground.

This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS we hear from Martin and Amy House at Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground about their mission to replant woodland areas and the importance of the wood wide web.

Q:  Your aim is to reforest part of the 14 acres of grassland.  We’d love to hear more about this project. 

That’s right! We are aiming to return nearly 14 acres of grassland back to its natural state of deciduous woodland. Thousands of years ago the vast majority of the British Isles were covered by woodland which has been steadily eroded over hundreds of years by human action. Our aim is to return our landscape back to what it once was.

We are fortunate to have 8 acres of beautiful woodland along the edge of our site, which in early May erupt in a sea of English bluebells. For the past 8 years we have been interring people and planting trees next to or close to this woodland edge. By planting our trees close to the ancient woodland we are giving our young trees the best possible start in life. They benefit from the protection that the ancient woodland gives them from high wind and storms and also from the myriad of insects and butterflies that are drawn to the woodland edge. These insects and butterflies will go on to pollinate the flowers and blossoms of the trees we plant, establishing further generations of trees.

A further benefit that the ancient woodland gives us is its vast network of underground roots and bacterial chains, the wood wide web. This underground system can act as an organic, intelligent body, working to protect the woods as a whole, rather than just as individual trees. Over time, as our trees grow and their roots spread they will be able to tap into this system and assimilate themselves into the current woodland, blurring the borders between the ancient and the new. Human understanding of the wood wide web is still in its infancy but it is exciting to be supporting this natural process.

We have already planted over 600 trees and over the coming years and decades we will plant thousands more.

Q:  Increasingly, people are thinking ahead, planning their own funeral and recording their wishes ahead of time.  Plots at Eden Valley can be selected and paid for in advance.  What are the benefits of this? 

Consolidating funeral choices before you die is not only a sensible thing to do but also takes a lot of pressure off for family members and friends who are arranging your funeral. Arranging a loved ones funeral can be such a stressful time, but knowing you are fulfilling their wishes as well as having key decisions already made goes a long way to making what is inevitably a difficult time slightly less traumatic. People often really enjoy choosing their plots, we have even had people lie down and try them out! Obviously from a practical side as well you are securing a plot at current prices so it makes sense on every level. If people can not visit the site we are also always happy to help people choose plots over zoom or choose a plot for them. We normally have around 200-300 plots which can be chosen at any one time.

Q:  Running Eden Valley is very much a family affair.  It’s great to see that your children muck in.  Have you always had open conversations with them about your work, death and dying? 

We have been incredibly fortunate that we have not had to address death yet in our personal lives so although our children have had a lot of exposure from the work side, they have not yet experienced a loss. We are always open with them about what we do, both are children help out on our annual tree planting weekend and our son has helped his dad dig a few graves. The most important thing I hope they are learning is you can have successful career which aligns with your personal values and also gives you the flexibility to spend time with your family.

Q:  Have you seen increased demand for natural burials over recent years?  Or do you think there is still work to do in making people aware of this as an alternative to traditional burial grounds and cemeteries? 

The profile of Natural Burial has increased over recent years however there is definitely still work to be done. The network of burial grounds is growing and there are around 270 natural burial sites in the UK now so a lot more people have the option of natural burial. Not every burial ground is the same which means there are options even within the industry so hopefully it can cater for even more people. Eden Valley for example is truly natural – we only hand dig graves and have no gravestones or markers except for trees.

Even if you do not choose a natural burial ground, you can still incorporate natural, sustainable elements into a funeral. For example, the use of an environmentally friendly coffin, making sure the deceased are not embalmed and choosing to do your funeral in a slow, gentle manner, moving away from what is sometimes considered a production line approach of crematoriums.

Q:  What types of ceremonies do people hold at Eden Valley alongside the burial?  

We have just one funeral a day at Eden Valley, so we give families and friends all the time and space to do whatever they want. A lot of ceremonies are quite traditional with a graveside service led by a celebrant, vicar, priest or other religious figure. Some ceremonies are incredibly simple, with just a few close family and friends, a few words said at the graveside with birdsong and nature providing the acoustic and visual backdrop. Other ceremonies are real celebrations with lots of people enjoying live music, food, drink, laughter and stories. It is entirely up to friends and family how they want to say goodbye to their loved one, there is no wrong or right way to have a ceremony, we are here at Eden Valley to help people do what is right for them.  

Q: And finally, is there a book that has inspired you in your work that you would like to share with our readers? 

What a lovely question! A book we like to read with our children is, “What do you see when you look at a Tree?” It helps children and adults to appreciate trees for everything they give us, the homes each tree provides for all kinds of wildlife and the positive interactions we have with them.

Two of my favourite books are, “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake and ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben. These books are fascinating and really give you a deeper insight into how woodlands work as an integrated system and how much we don’t know about trees and what goes on in the woodland ground beneath. These books have helped me realise that we aren’t creating anything or doing anything new, our work is just extending what nature has already established.

Thank you Martin and Amy for your insights

If you would like to find out more, please visit the Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground website.

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