Answering your questions about natural burial.
During our Facebook live for ‘Dying matters awareness week’ we answered some of your questions about natural burial. This included questions about green funerals, sustainable funeral practices and planning ahead. For those who couldn’t join us, we have included a few of these questions below. In this blog, we also took the opportunity to answer a few of the questions we didn’t get a chance to answer.
If you have a question we haven’t answered yet please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Sarah.
How can I find a grave?
My mum is talking about having a natural burial. How would I find her grave without a marker?
When you visit our natural burial ground you may notice the points set into the ground. These are not markers for graves, but instead, mark a set point on a map of the natural burial ground. This allows every burial to be precisely recorded from these markers. This means we can share the exact what3words or GPS location of the grave with our families. You can then use your mobile to walk you to the exact location of the grave. Using these ground markers we can also physically measure and mark the location of the grave in special circumstances.
Another way people locate a grave is by using landmarks like a tree or view to help them identify where their loved one is resting. You can find out more about ‘finding the spot’ at our website.
When can I visit a burial ground?
Often we get asked, when are your opening hours, can I come at any time to visit a grave, or is the burial ground locked? At our natural burial grounds, we are open all year round during daylight hours. This includes days like Christmas, Mother’s Day and New Year. You may find that some of our gates are closed or locked but you are still welcome to use the parking. If there is a code to gain access we give this to families that have had a burial with us. It’s important that any gates you find closed or locked are re-closed and relocked.
Can I include pets’ ashes in a burial?
This is an answer we gave in response to the question, ‘My mum keeps her budgie’s ashes in a little tin. Could they be buried with her?’
At our natural burial grounds, we can include pets’ ashes as part of a natural burial or even as part of an ashes interment. It’s something we have permission to do and you find it as an option on our application form. You only need to let us know if you would like to include a pet’s ashes and we can help you arrange this.
Ashes must be placed in something that is biodegradable. We cannot accept plastic, tins or anything made from MDF or chipboard which contains formaldehyde and chemicals. Biodegradable and recycled materials like a cardboard box and or the ARKA Acorn Urn is perfect. Containers made from wood or wool like the Bellacouche Wool Urn are also a lovely way to include a pet’s ashes as part of a natural burial. If you are unsure if a container is suitable just give us a call and we can let you know.
How is a natural burial ground managed?
A question asked during our Facebook Live was, “How is the burial meadow maintained? It sounds silly, but I want mum to be in a safe place that’s managed.”
Firstly, we want you to know that no questions are silly. It’s important you have the information you need to make sure your loved one is resting in the right place.
Our burial grounds are cared for by our custodians some are also landowners. They have a special connection to the burial ground they care for. This is due to their love of nature and understanding of how special the area is as a resting place for loved ones.
They ensure the natural burial ground is safe, clean and tidy and are there to help if there is ever a problem. If they are not available we also have a great team at Leedam who can help with any concerns. We have gates on our burial grounds which the custodian closes and locks when necessary. Families still have access to the burial ground. You can read more about this in the question, ‘when can I visit?’, included above.
Our custodians help maintain the natural burial ground following our natural ethos. This means no intensive gardening regimes typical of traditional cemeteries with negative impacts on native habitats. Instead, we work with our native habitats mowing paths through meadows and conserving woodland. We make sure there is good access to memorial frames and benches and have areas that we let grow to encourage wildlife. Our custodians are instrumental in this. They identify areas that need a mow and areas we can leave to grow. They ensure the burial ground is a space that works for our families and for our wildlife.
What can I leave on a grave?
I’d like to be able to leave something on the grave when I visit. Is this allowed, and what can I leave? I make corn dollies, can I leave these?
If you are visiting you can leave something on a grave, but this must be natural and biodegradable. Corn dollies would be perfect as long as you use biodegradable materials to tie the dolly. Anything locally sourced like a posy of flowers from the garden or flower farm is ideal. We like to encourage locally sourced tributes as much as possible to reduce the environmental impact of tributes. Other ideas we have seen are willow, vegetable or herb tributes. When flowers and tributes have gone over we will place these in an area where they can then biodegrade. This means families don’t have to worry about visiting to remove flowers or tributes.
If we come across anything that isn’t biodegradable we will let families know so they are aware and can take it away. We can then offer advice on what they can leave. For example, some oasis like ‘Bio Floral Foam’ says ‘biodegradable’. When you read the description this is only 91% and in landfill conditions. These are not acceptable for natural burial grounds as they do not biodegrade in natural conditions. Moss, Agra Wool or Willow is a great alternative, that is truly biodegradable in natural conditions.
If we need to remove something that is not biodegradable please understand it’s not us being unkind. We are ensuring the rules families agree to when arranging a burial are followed. This is out of respect for those resting with us and their families, and it ensures we keep the natural burial ground natural.
Can I scatter wildflower seeds or plant flowers on a grave?
I like growing flowers and dad was a keen gardener. Can I plant something on his grave?
At some of our natural burial grounds, you can scatter native wildflower seeds or plant native species. Before you do it’s important you ask the natural burial ground for permission. This is because not all native flowers are suitable for certain areas.
Some native species can be invasive when planted in the wrong area. Some we are not allowed to plant in certain areas. For example, our natural burial ground at Bath lies within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Part of the terms of our planning is that all flowers planted there must be native species indigenous to the area. It is possible to plant plug plants or scatter seeds but we need to advise on what is acceptable.
Another reason for asking permission is that we have areas at our natural burial grounds where we let the grass grow. There are areas we encourage woodland and hedgerow. There are areas that are damp or part of wetland and areas we cut for hay or graze. To ensure species are safe and have a chance to grow it’s important to talk to us first. We can also make sure you are using native varieties as cultivated varieties like primrose and daffodils exist and are not suitable. Any plants left that are not native or suitable for the area we have to remove. We are not being unkind. It’s an important part of protecting native species and being a responsible natural burial provider.
If you want to add to our wonderful native species in memory of a loved one we are always happy to chat about what you can plant or scatter.
What can you dress someone in for a natural burial or green funeral?
What can you bury someone in, does it have to be a shroud?
You can bury your loved one in whatever you choose as long as it is biodegradable and made from natural material. Natural materials include things like wool, cotton or linen. It may be an outfit you have chosen or a simple gown. A funeral director may also have a few natural options they can offer. You can also choose to have a shroud made from natural materials.
The photo below was taken at a shroud-wrapping workshop with the help of a kind volunteer who offered to step in so others could learn how to wrap a shroud.
What role do the undertakers play when someone is buried in a natural burial ground?
An undertaker or funeral director’s role is there to offer support and to make the process easier when arranging a natural burial. Some people choose not to use an undertaker and plan a family-led funeral without any help which is perfectly acceptable. If you want to use a funeral director they are there to offer you as little or as much support as you need. This could be collecting your loved one, placing them in the coffin and offering a space you know they are safe until the burial or the day you want them home. They can offer transport and provide bearers. They can help you plan the whole funeral or the bits that you don’t want to do yourself.
When planning a natural burial they are there to guide you with the eco-friendly choices that are available. This includes aspects you may not have considered like ensuring there are no plastic linings, body bags or processes like embalming. They can also offer guidance when planning a funeral service.
As a natural burial ground provider, we are also there to help offer advice when you are arranging a natural burial. We liaise with families and funeral directors to ensure you get the chance to say goodbye your way. This includes families that have chosen to do it all themselves or want to contact us directly for help or guidance.
Can we have a service at a natural burial ground?
Can we have a little service (we don’t want a priest) and who can help us with this?
Yes, you can have a service and you choose the type of service you want and who you would like to take the ceremony. The great thing about natural burial is that you have the time and space to create a service that feels right for your loved one. This could be a very simple send-off, a small service or a larger gathering. You can find a bit of advice about planning a service on our website. If you need a bit of guidance please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the custodian as they can offer advice and ideas. We also have a list of contact for each of our burial grounds that can help when arranging a service.
Are burial plots more expensive if you live out of the county?
I want to buy a plot closer to my family but I live away. I have to pay more at the local cemetery as I do not live within the county. Is this the same for your natural burial grounds?
No, our plot prices are the same, no matter where you live. You may find different areas at our natural burial grounds which offer different plot prices. Here people choose where they want to be depending on the surroundings and price. But these prices remain the same whether you live in the county or outside of the county.
You can find all our prices on our website if you want to find out more. Just follow the location you are interested in or alternatively give us a call.
Can we stay for a while after a burial?
I’ve heard that, after the burial, the family and friends can stay together for a while at the natural burial site. Is this correct?
Yes, it is. We do not have time restrictions at our natural burial grounds so you can stay for a while after the burial if you wish. Some even choose to do this with a picnic. We have also had families that have chosen to have an ice cream van, a mobile coffee van or a relaxed wake at the meadow following the burial. If this is something you would like to do let us know and we can make arrangements with you.
After a certain amount of time after the burial, our gravedigger will need to backfill the grave and our custodian will have to leave. If are happy with this you are welcome to stay at the burial ground and can leave when you are ready as we are open during daylight hours.
You can also choose to return to the burial ground once the gravedigger has finished. We can inform you when this will be so you can return in your own time.
What type of funeral service can I have at a natural burial ground?
We are Catholic and want a religious funeral but also want something eco-friendly. Can we have a religious funeral at a natural burial?
Yes, absolutely. You can have any type of ceremony that you would like at the burial ground. Religious or non-religious or a mixed-faith funeral. The burial ground is not blessed but you can have the grave blessed by your officiant or minister.
You can also have a service at a church or place of worship before or after the natural burial. Some use this as an opportunity to have a wider gathering at the church with a private service of close family and friends at the natural burial ground.
Another question that we have been asked is if we can accommodate Muslim burials and again the answer is yes, everyone is welcome. We are very familiar with the use of cotton shrouds and graves can face towards Mecca. As long as the paperwork and payment are in order burials can take place at the earliest convenience.
Do you have grave markers at your burial grounds?
We do not have grave markers or headstones because we want to keep everything as natural as possible. This means our natural burial grounds can remain an important part of our countryside. It allows them to remain sustainable, which is why you may find sheep grazing or haymaking. It also supports our aim of protecting and restoring native habitats like woodland and wildflower meadows.
While there are no grave markers you can still find the place a loved one is resting. You can find more information on finding the spot on our website. We still offer natural memorials at our burial grounds, but these are placed in a memorial shelter or memorial frame. Memorials differ between burial grounds. To find out more about memorials at your local natural burial ground just follow the relevant location page.
For many not having grave markers is one of the reasons they choose to be with us because it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere. If you are thinking about having a natural burial we always advise visiting beforehand and seeing it for yourself. This is to make sure it’s right for you and that you are happy with the natural surroundings.
Would I save money coming directly to you rather than via a funeral director?
When arranging a natural burial our prices are the same for everyone. Different areas may have different prices but the price of the plot is the same whether you arrange it with us or via a funeral director. It’s also important to know that it doesn’t matter if you are local or live away from the area, the price we offer is the same. This is because we want natural burial to be available to all. Natural burial is not subsidised and we know funerals can be expensive so the best way we can do this is to offer the most affordable price we can to all.
Ensuring burials can be as affordable as possible is also one of the reasons we offer pre-purchases. In life, as we know, everything goes up with inflation, it’s the same for burial plots. However, when you pre-purchase a plot in advance you secure it at the price you pay when you purchase it. This includes if you decide to pay for the plot by standing order over 10 or 20 months. It doesn’t matter when you use that plot in the future you will not pay any more, even if plot prices have risen over the years. The only costs we ask for at ‘time of need’ are the grave digging cost and registration fee.
What is embalming and why can’t I be embalmed at a natural burial ground?
Embalming, sometimes called, ‘hygenic treatment’, is an invasive process where the blood and natural fluids of the body are removed via the circulatory system. They are then replaced with a preservative solution which is injected into the body. This then slows down the natural process of decomposition. Unfortunately, the solution used is a chemical solution which is toxic and isn’t good for the environment. This is why embalming is not permitted at our natural burial grounds.
The toxic chemicals use have adverse effects on the soil, soil organisms, groundwater and ecology of our sites. Embalming fluid also contains formaldehyde a carcinogenic chemical which we don’t want to introduce into our groundwater and surrounding ecosystems. In some circumstances, embalming is necessary, for example with repatriation but often, this is not the case. With technological advances, there are other ways of slowing the rate of decomposition which are not invasive and do not use harmful chemicals. As we have learnt over the years nature knows what it’s doing. The fluids in the body are part of the person we loved and the blood that ran through their veins gave them life. Allowing the body to remain as it was in life and to return to the earth as nature intended is one of the ways we ensure natural burial is eco-friendly.
Is there an alternative to embalming?
Since the 18th century, we have become accustomed to using embalming within funeral practices. There may be some situations where embalming is necessary like repatriation, but often this is not the case. In modern society with technical advances like refrigeration, and a much better understanding of nature, there are better ways to slow the rate of decomposition. So yes, there are alternatives to embalming.
Using cold resting spaces helps slow the rate of decomposition giving families time to plan a funeral without the need for embalming. Some families also choose to have a quicker burial or cremation. We don’t allow embalming at our natural burial grounds due to the toxic chemicals and their effect on surrounding ecosystems. Instead, we work with families to provide a timescale that works with the natural process without the need to embalm. This is something that should also be possible with other funeral choices.
Is embalming really necessary?
Unfortunately, it appears embalming is often offered out of habit rather than necessity. Because it’s an invasive process that contains harmful chemicals this is something we need to consider. When arranging a funeral it’s important to understand what you are agreeing to and why?
Are you being offered embalming because it’s necessary, or because it’s convenient or as another avenue of income? Do you need to preserve the body of a loved one for a particular reason? You can ask instead that your loved one rests in a cold space and work with the natural process. More importantly, do you want fluids like blood removed and replaced with a preservative solution? The blood in our veins gave us life and is part of who we are so it’s understandable that some would not want this to happen.
Can we bring our dogs to the burial site?
The burial site is quite a long way from where we live. We have two dogs, can we bring them to the funeral as our dogs are very much part of the family?
Yes of course you can. One thing we love about our natural burial grounds is that they are dog friendly. Of course, we ask that those who bring dogs to the burial ground are responsible pet owners. That you keep them on a lead or clean up after them, but dogs are welcome. We have also had horses and cats join us at the burial ground in the past.
We are animal lovers and it’s important to us funerals can be pet friendly. It’s also why we have permission to allow pets’ ashes as part of natural burial. We know it’s not always allowed but sometimes it is an important part of people’s wishes. Some of our burial grounds have a designated area for natural pet burial. You can read more about how we are making funerals and burial grounds pet-friendly at this blog.
“What about the future, will it remain a natural burial ground?”
This is a really good question and one we are often asked when people visit. It’s important to make sure the burial ground you are using is legitimate.
All our natural burial grounds have gone through a strict process to become natural burial grounds. This ensures they are suitable for natural burial and have the correct planning permission. They are designated as ‘natural burial grounds’ by the local planning authority. This means their permitted use is for natural burial and cannot be changed without permission from the local planning authority.
What about development?
Our burial grounds have no potential for property development, but they do have long-term value as pasture. This is one of the things that allows our natural burial grounds to remain sustainable. They are held on a 99-year lease by Leedam that restricts the use of the land to natural burials and grazing. This means people can be confident that it is a place people will rest peacefully, which they can visit in years to come.
What security do families have that burial grounds will remain burial grounds?
Each new burial adds to the complexity and cost of any future development and to the security of a site. As with other graveyards or traditional cemeteries, a planning authority is exceptionally unlikely to approve any application for change of use where burials exist. Any request to change the use of the land would require significant justifications. While legislative procedures you must follow for each proposed exhumation require strong justification. Exhumation costs are likely to prohibit development – only major civil schemes such as HS2 can bear these costs.
In addition to this, we created our burial grounds with landowners to protect green spaces. This is part of our ethos ensuring they work with nature and protect native habitats. Even in the far-off future, when burial grounds may be full, they have a long-term, sustainable future as pasture. Their use as a natural burial helps to protect these spaces so they remain an important part of our countryside. This is one of the reasons we wanted to offer natural burial.
They are beautiful, simple resting places that help us honour the people we love but they also respect and protect our countryside.
Ask us your questions.
If you have a question that we have not answered above please get in touch. We are here to help and happy to answer any questions relating to natural burial, green funerals, sustainable burial practices and our natural burial grounds.