07 Oct What is a natural burial ground?
If you’ve heard of natural burial grounds but aren’t exactly sure what they are or how they work, this blog is for you. I’ve led several funerals at a natural burial ground and each one has felt uplifting and peaceful. I wonder whether being close to nature, observing the seasons come and go help us to accept that dying is a natural part of life.
Burial grounds, such as Ham Down, North Dorset pictured above, appeal to a wide variety of people for different reasons. Some people are concerned about climate change and want to find the most environmentally-friendly funeral option. Others have loved the countryside all their life and want a final resting place which reflects that. And there are others who are looking for a peaceful place, somewhere ‘far from the madding crowd’ and different to traditional town centre cemeteries.
I’m not saying that natural burial grounds are somehow better than cremation or burial in a cemetery or churchyard. This is probably the most personal decision any of us will make, whether it’s for ourselves or for someone we love. The right choice, in my view, will always be the one that feels right.
What does a natural burial ground look like?
When you arrive at a burial ground, you’ll notice that it looks quite different to a churchyard or cemetery. You won’t see any traditional graves, headstones, or tombs here. At first glance, all you see is a beautiful, natural scene. Gradually as you look closer, you will become aware of graves – they just aren’t stone ones.
Burial grounds aim to have the least possible impact on the environment. So, even as you won’t see headstones, nor will you see wind chimes, dream catchers or vases of artificial flowers. You will see young trees, wooden plaques and mown pathways but otherwise, the area is a natural habitat for the many species of wildlife that live there.
Higher Ground Meadow, Dorchester
What’s the most eco-friendly funeral?
The most eco-friendly option is to be buried in a coffin or a shroud, made of natural, sustainable and biodegradable materials. There are many types of eco-friendly wood and wicker coffins available which all look beautiful. Funeral shrouds are a less common choice but they too have an honesty and beauty about them, either dressed with flowers or just simply presented. Other things you might consider to make a funeral greener include asking your florist not to use floral foam, or oasis, which is not biodegradable. You might also choose recycled paper for your service sheets.
A lovely willow coffin by Weaverman
Can you bury ashes at a natural burial ground?
Yes, you can usually bury ashes at a natural burial ground, if you have opted for cremation – as many people do.
What kind of funeral can I have at a burial ground?
You can have any kind of ceremony you want. It can be quirky or traditional, contain religious elements or not. You can choose your funeral celebrant or minister of religion, according to your wishes and beliefs. You might want a real celebration, with everyone wearing bright colours, or you might want something more traditional and reflective.
Families sometimes ask: “What do other people do?” or “Will we upset people if we do something different?” In my experience, if the funeral is personal and feels right for the person who has died, those attending the funeral readily accept it, even if it’s new to them.
Funerals are changing and the ‘one size fits all attitude’ is being replaced with a more personal approach across the board, which is good news.
So, if you don’t want a service sheet, don’t have one. Bring the dog if you want to and hand out your nan’s favourite sweets if that feels right.
How can we make a funeral natural and personal?
To make a funeral feel personal, everything needs to feel true to the person who has died. A carefully written eulogy, music they loved and poems which express their philosophy of life all make a funeral feel special.
For a natural funeral, there are lots of poems which express a love of nature. I often use ancient Celtic prayers and blessings, which express spiritual ideas through our everyday experiences and nature. To me, as an independent celebrant, it’s essential that a funeral reflects the religious or spiritual views of the individual, as far as possible.
Is a natural burial expensive?
Every burial ground ought to be clear about their prices, so you can compare the different options. A good funeral director will help you manage and prioritise your various costs. They will also help you make savings on extras such as cars, flowers and service sheets, if you’re on a tight budget. Beautiful words and music cost nothing; flowers can be picked from the garden and bulbs planted up at home. Some of the loveliest funeral tributes I’ve seen were homemade.
Where can I find out more about natural burial grounds?
The best source of information and advice online is at The Natural Death Centre. You’ll find a list of natural burial grounds near you and answers to many common questions. Your funeral director will have experience of local burial grounds, so they can advise you too.
In Dorset, we are fortunate to have two beautiful natural burial grounds: Higher Ground Meadow near Dorchester and Ham Down Woodland Burial Ground, near Shillingstone.
“I should like to be buried in a summer forest where the dark steps blindfold, on cat foot-pads,
with the dawn almost touching it.”
From: I should like to be buried in a summer forest. a poem by Helen Dunmore (1952-)