Natural & Woodland Burial Grounds

What is a Natural Burial Ground?

Natural, green or woodland burial grounds are places where people can be laid to rest amongst nature. They are also seen as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial or cremation.

Woodlands, Meadows & Green Burials

At the best natural burial grounds, the land is carefully managed, with a range of habitats to encourage a good diversity of plants and wildlife. By using biodegradable materials and ensuring minimal disruption to the land, these sites will remain ecologically balanced and sustainable.

Environmentally Friendly 

Natural burial, as the word suggests, involves burying the deceased in as natural a state as possible, allowing the body and anything that is buried with it to decompose naturally.

The use of chemicals for embalming, or anything else that may contaminate the ground, is not allowed. The simplicity of natural burials resonates with those seeking a closer connection to nature. 

The eco-friend nature of natural burial practices is also evident in the use of natural and biodegradable materials for everything from coffins, caskets and shrouds to grave markers and memorialisation.

By making this choice, individuals contribute to reducing their carbon footprint. Unlike traditional burials, natural burials promote a sustainable cycle where the body returns to the earth. 

Types of Natural Burial

Natural burials are also referred to as ‘green’ or Woodland burials. They are often located in established woodlands, or meadows where trees are planted to honour the deceased. They are gaining popularity because families appreciate the serene environment and the idea of returning to nature in a sustainable way. The trend towards environmentally friendly practices has led more people to choose woodland burials. 

Beyond woodland burials, there are various green burial options available. Sea burials involve committing the body of the person to the ocean, or scattering their ashes at sea. Conservation burials focus on preserving natural habitats through burial sites.

Choosing a Green or Woodland Burial Site

A woodland or meadow can be a beautiful place for a funeral ceremony. They are also calm and serene places to visit in the days, weeks and years following the funeral, to sit and remember a loved one.

The type of environment varies from locations to location. Some green burial grounds are established woodland sites, with burials amongst existing trees. Others are newly established areas, where memorial trees are creating newly wooded areas. There are also wild flower meadows and sites set on hills overlooking the sea.

When choosing, here are some of the things to think about:

  • Personal preference – what surroundings feel right for the person who is being laid to rest and those closest to them? Did they love open spaces, woodland, or the sea?
  • Site accessibility – how far will you and other mourners have to travel for the service and what will the journey be like if you will be visiting regularly? Is there public transport or is it only accessible by car?
  • Burial location accessibility – some burial plots may only be reached on foot, so consider the requirements of mourners both on the day and for visiting in the future.

Funerals and Memorial Services at Natural Burial Sites

Most natural burial sites also have indoor spaces for services and funeral receptions, with catering and other facilities. The funeral service can be held at the graveside followed by a funeral reception indoors. 

Many burial grounds will be able to help you with funeral arrangements too, for example finding a funeral celebrant, music and other aspects of the funeral service, reception and catering. 

Restrictions Around Burials

Restrictions and requirements will vary from place to place, but here are some of the things to be aware of if you are considering a natural burial.

Biodegradable Coffins, Shrouds and Urns

All materials used for the coffin or shroud must be environmentally friendly and readily biodegradable.

Materials like willow or cardboard for coffins and caskets, shrouds made from organic cotton or wool felt, or biodegradable urns are ideal for eco-friendly burials. They blend seamlessly with nature, respecting the environment there are lots of different options available

Choosing biodegradable materials for natural burials is crucial to maintain the ecological balance of the burial ground. These materials decompose fully and naturally, promoting sustainability. 

Scattering or Burial of Cremated Remains

Some sites now allow the burial of cremated remains. In large quantities, the ashes can be toxic to plants due to high levels of sodium and PH, but this can be mitigated by mixing them with a specially blended soil. Urns containing the ashes must also be fully biodegradable.

If you are interested in reading more about cremation ashes, please see The Truth About Ashes in our Blog.

Embalming and Non-biodegradable Materials

For environmental reasons, most sites do not allow embalming because the toxic chemicals used in this process can leach into the soil and harm flora and fauna.

Also, all non-biodegradable materials (for example metal implants or pacemakers) must be removed from the body before burial.

To find out more about the ecological impact of different types of funeral, please see Green and Eco Friendly Funerals.

Memorial Markers and Plaques

Not all sites mark the exact spot of each burial with a memorial or plaque, however they will all keep a register of individual locations. The type of memorialisation allowed varies from site to site, so if this is important to you, do check before making your choice.

Aftercare and Memorialisation

Many woodland burial sites are committed to keeping the site as natural as possible. Graves are often marked by natural memorials such as plants or trees, rather than a traditional headstone or other permanent memorial. Some will allow memorials made from natural materials, such as a wooden cross, to be erected. 

Planting Flowers and Trees and Natural Burial Markers

Natural markers such as trees, shrubs, or wildflowers serve as poignant alternatives to traditional gravestones in natural burial grounds. They blend harmoniously with the surroundings.  

Planting flowers and trees at natural burial sites is a common practice that symbolises growth, renewal, and life after death. This also helps  create a tranquil atmosphere, offering solace to visitors and honouring the deceased. Some sites also offer the option of bird boxes or other forms of shelter for wildlife.

Planting trees and other elements that promote flora and fauna contribute significantly to establishing a peaceful and biodiverse environment within the burial ground, fostering a sense of unity with nature.

Cost of a Natural Burial

As with all funerals, the cost of a natural burial or interment of ashes varies from site to site, and depends on the type of service required. It is worth doing some research and comparing prices for sites local to you. 

A breakdown of costs may include the following: 

  • Registration fee
  • Plot fee – for the reservation of the plot either in advance or at time of need.
  • Interment charges – these encompass the actual process, which can be a full burial or the interment of ashes.
  • Memorial expenses – memorialisation such as a simple plaque, bench, tree or shrub.
  • Other expenses – for example, transport, a marquee to provide shelter at the graveside, catering and refreshments at the reception, etc.

Choosing a Natural Burial Ground 

When selecting a green burial site, individuals should first evaluate the location and facilities offered by each option. It’s crucial to choose a site that is easily accessible for loved ones to visit regularly. It is also essential to understand the rules and regulations of the burial ground before making a final decision.  

There are now over 270 green burial sites throughout the United Kingdom. Each site is different, so do your research and check their Terms & Conditions to make sure they are offering what you need, and to find out what they require from you. Also check whether they have a long-term plan for the site, for example after it is full. 

How whiteballoon can help

To find sites near you, see Natural Burial Ground Providers, or find out more about Green and Eco-Friendly Funerals in our information section. 

Funeral Locations Inspiration pages can help you with ideas, or your funeral director may also be able to give guidance or recommendations for sites in your local area to consider. 

The Natural Death Centre has lots of useful information as well as a directory of approved natural burial sites across the UK, or find further help and support on the The Woodland Burial Trust website.

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