Can I be buried on my own land?
Can I be buried on my own land?
In both England and Wales there is no law that prevents burial on private land. This means it may be possible a have a burial on your own land. This is also true for Scotland, although planning permission may be required. You would also need to contact the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for advice when planning a private burial in Scotland.
Below is some information you may find helpful if you are thinking about having a burial on your own land in England or Wales. There are a few things you need to check to ensure burial is permitted. There are also a few steps you need to take, and a few thoughts you may want to consider before you go ahead.
Check to make sure it’s permitted
If you are not the registered landowner you would need to get their permission for the burial to go ahead and their agreement to keep a burial register for the burial. It’s also important you check with a solicitor that there is no covenant or local byelaws which prohibit burial.
If you have a mortgage on the property you will need to inform the mortgage company as they have an interest in your property. If there are any concerns about infectious diseases you should ask your local environmental health department for advice on burial.
Finding an acceptable spot
In practical terms, you need to make sure the grave is in an area that is appropriate for burial. This means the grave must follow the Environment Agencies’ minimum groundwater protection requirements.
Based on their advice* the grave needs to:
- be at least 30m away from any spring or water source. This includes both running and standing water (e.g. streams, ponds, rivers, lakes).
- be at least 50 metres from any well, borehole or spring supplying water for human consumption or use in food production. This also includes private water supplies.
- be at least 10 meters away from field drains or ditches.
- have at least 1-metre between the base of the grave and the top of the water table. The grave should not have any standing water in it when dug.
You also need to ensure the grave is not:
- dug in areas susceptible to groundwater flooding.
- dug in unaltered or unweathered bedrock.
*(We have included this information loose guide. If you are planning a burial it is important you check with the environment agency that this is most up-to-date advice.)
It’s also important to make sure the grave is away from ground services including gas, water, or sewerage pipes and electric cables.
Inform the correct people
If all is well and you can go ahead you will need to tell the police so they are aware of the date and location of the burial. This means they know it’s a registered burial. To ensure there is no confusion in the future it is important to record the precise location of the grave for a burial register. Keeping this with the deeds ensures that any future buyers are aware there is a grave present on the land. It will also reduce the complication of police involvement if the burial is found in the future.
Registering the death and certificate of authority
Before the burial, you will need to register the death with your local council. The council registration service (births, deaths and marriages) issue a certificate to proceed with burial (or cremation). This is also known as the ‘green form’.
In some circumstances, a death has to be referred to a coroner who will contact the registrar. They should be able to advise on how to proceed with the burial and when they will issue a certificate.
A burial cannot go ahead until the certificate has been received. You will need to complete and return the slip attached to the certificate (green form) to the registrar within 96 hours of the burial taking place.
Digging the grave
Digging the grave is not always an easy task and carries risks. If you do not want to do this yourself you can hire freelance grave diggers who will dig and backfill the grave for you. Some prefer to do this by hand while others use a digger. There are some important points to remember if you choose to do this yourself.
- Make sure the person digging the grave feels confident to do so and have ladders on standby to exit the grave.
- When you work out the size of the grave it’s important to use the external measurements of the coffin or baseboard if using a shroud. Leave some room for clearance – add a bit of room to the width and length (approx 20cm) to these measurements to give you space to lower.
- Removing the turf from your measured area and placing it carefully aside is a good way to mark where you need to dig. It also means you can re-lay the turf after backfilling.
- The grave must be deep enough for the coffin/shroud and should allow for at least 600mm of soil to cover the coffin. A depth of approximately 1.2m should be adequate.
- When digging the grave ensure someone else is present in case there is an emergency.
- Be wary of the soil you are digging into as the grave can become unstable. Make sure you have the correct equipment nearby for adequate grave-shoring if required.
- Boards to frame the edges of the grave will help to spread the load beside the grave wall.
- Place soil you have excavated at least 1m away from the grave on board to ensure the load does not collapse the grave wall.
- When unattended it’s important to cover the grave securely.
On the day of the burial
- On the day of the burial provide two long timbers (cross boards) to place across the width of the grave. These are usually around 1.8m and no smaller than 100 x 50mm. This will give you a space on which to rest the coffin
- When carrying the coffin ensure you have enough bearers to bear the weight and provide webbing straps for lowering the coffin. Three 6m long strong webbing straps are normally adequate and seatbelt webbing is perfect for this job. It also comes in a range of colours if you want to add some colour to the proceedings which can add a personal touch.
- When lowering the coffin rest it first on the cross boards with the straps laid underneath. This means you can thread the straps through the handles on either side with one person on each side of the strap. Ensure you have enough people to help lower (6 people for 3 webbing straps) and one person to remove the cross boards.
- When you are ready to backfill (this may be by hand or machine) remember to compact the earth. If you do this in 150mm layers it will ensure the earth is adequately compacted. Leave a raised mound of earth on top of the grave (around the size of the coffin). This will allow the ground to re-level as it will settle with time.
- At this point, you can place the turf carefully back on top. A nice touch to finish is to scatter wildflowers on patches of bare soil where they can take root.
The funeral service
Another part of the arrangements you may want to consider is the funeral service. You may have chosen not to have a funeral at all and that is perfectly acceptable. If you would like to have a funeral or celebration of life you can include this as part of a, ‘home burial’. This may be something that you choose to write and present yourself as a family. There is also the option to also ask an officiant to help you.
If you are religious a minister may be willing to come and bless the grave and officiate for you. Your local minister may be able to offer you more advice on this. If you are non-religious a celebrant can help you to arrange a very personal funeral service. Part of their expertise is to help families to undertake funerals in special locations like the family home or a venue. If you want to find a celebrant there are a few different organisations that can help you find a local celebrant. This includes the Association of Independent Celebrants (AOIC), Celebrant Directory, Humanist UK as well as a number of other organisations.
Following the burial
It’s important to remember that the slip attached to the bottom of the certificate (green form) must be completed and returned to the registrar within 96 hours of the burial taking place. Arranging for one specific person to return this slip after the burial has taken place can ensure this is completed and remove any additional stress or worry it may cause when arranging the burial.
The owner of the land must also prepare and keep a burial register with details of the burial. It does not have to be a specific book or register it just needs to be a document that records the details of the deceased including the date of burial and a clear plan showing the location of the grave within the property. A good idea is to keep this with the property deeds.
Things to Consider
We have included this guide as informal advice for those who may wish to have a burial at home. But there are some important things to consider before you decide to go ahead.
1. Your right of access to visit the grave.
If you or the land owner chooses to sell or restrict access to the property in the future will you still have a right to visit the grave? If you don’t own the land you don’t automatically have the right to visit. You can request a restrictive covenant to ensure future owners cannot remove the body and you retain a right of access to visit the grave. This may cause problems in the future if you wish to sell the property.
2. Devaluation of the property.
The burial and any restrictions you may place could devalue the property price. This may not be of concern if it is a family home that will remain in the family. But it is something to consider if you intend sell the property in the future. To overcome this some families have chosen an area for the burial they can access separately. They have also ensured this is a space they can retain ownership of even if they sell the property.
3. Future development of the land.
Planning permission protects cemeteries and burial sites with their change of use. While you may not need planning for a private interment it means the land does not have the same future security as a burial ground. If you feel the land is in an area that could be developed in the future it’s important to consider if will this affect the burial. There are still certain securities for a private burial. You cannot disturb or removed remains without authorisation and a licence. However, future owners could apply for a license from the Home Office for an exhumation. Once again you can apply for a restrictive covenant to ensure future owners cannot remove the body or develop in that area. But this may cause problems with future sales of the property.
While you do not need planning for limited burials on private land this only applies to the burial itself. If your wish is to have a natural burial at home this may not be something you need to worry about. If you are considering having a gravestone or a memorial, advice from planning should be sought to ensure this can go ahead.
5. Make sure you are aware of all your other choices
We have had families approach us who were considering a burial on their land as they felt this was the only option for a more personal, unhurried send-off. When they realised they were not just limited to traditional burial in a graveyard or cemetery, that they could also have a natural burial in beautiful countryside, this gave them another choice. We know that for some this has provided the relaxed personal, burial they wanted. It also gave them the peace of mind that they can visit their loved one in the future without worry.
We know that some also consider a burial at home because they want the funeral or celebration of life at home. It is important to know you can have a funeral service anywhere. You can choose to have a simple committal at a burial ground while arranging for the service itself to be at the family home.
A private burial or a burial site?
When discussing burial on your land this really only refers to your own private use. Multiple burials may need additional consent or environmental considerations.
If you are thinking about offering burials commercially you will need to go through the correct channels to set up a burial site. This includes getting the correct reports and approvals, including local authority planning permission. We work with landowners to ensure natural burial grounds are set up and managed correctly. If you are a prospective landowner who would like to discuss an opportunity with us please get in touch. You find can out more about this at the bottom of our ‘About Us’ page.
Find out more about natural burial.
If you would like to find out more about natural burial and if this is something you want to consider alongside burial on your own land please don't hesitate to get in touch.