The figure of 270 sites UK wide is possibly misleading, as at least half of these are, what we, here in the bunker, refer to as hybrid sites and amount to little more than token gestures within conventional cemeteries – most are negatively viewed by the public as ‘forgotten corners’. Managed with little interpretation and by staff who have not the first thought, understanding or care for habitats and wildlife; let alone the differing requirements and support needed by families seeking this type of funeral. There are exceptions but in general the public sector sites have a long way to go.
This is not the only way in which the heady days of the idealistic visionaries and altruistic providers of natural burial have been hijacked by competitive corporations looking to make a fast buck, or as above, those providing lip service to a genuine call from the public. We hope that this improves but it is not easy trying to advise a civil servant or a money maker how to run their cemetery and in the spirit of the movement.
All is not lost however. There continues to be a steady rise of individuals and diversifying farmers who do ‘get it’ and are running beautiful, positive sites.
We receive dozens of feedback forms every week from families who have used association sites and the vast majority are glowing.
One superstar, who has hit the ground running since opening three years ago is Jo Vassie on her organic sheep farm down in Dorset. Granted she does have the advantage of a stunning landscape and fragrant herb rich flower meadows. But for me she is what it is all about. Jo is a compassionate, practical, sensitive woman for whom nothing is too much trouble. Her grandchildren may call her an old fuss pot but the end result is that dozens of families have had fantastic funerals and she has made a positive difference to the lives of many beyond simply the families.
THINGS THAT ANNOY ME
Complicated pricing structures; what some sites are doing is providing posh plots and less desirable spots. This smacks of the snobbery of the Victorian era to many and is not in the spirit of ‘we are all equal in death’. Worryingly a few seem to have made up the rules as they go along for example stating “plots can be individually consecrated.” This of course is nonsense. Some too are advertising that you can be buried with your pet, again this is only possible if you have stringent licensing form DEFRA and only a handful have achieved this. Interestingly it is more complex, bureaucratically speaking, to bury animals than humans! So watch out for the few sites that don’t know what they are doing, it may indicate other more serious flaws.
Our ANBG member sites are spread between Aberdeen and Cornwall, they are diverse and reflect the ethos, passion and individual vision of their owners. We welcome this diversity as what suits one family about a particular site may not satisfy the requirements of another. For example for some the desire to have a tree planted over them is paramount for others the need for a small permanent marker may be crucial. Some sites offer both, many one and not the other.
When they get it right, managers can expect the most wonderful job satisfaction. It should be a win, win, win situation for the public, wildlife and the owner. I also know from experience that the vast majority of mourners attending a well run site for the first time will be blown away. The whispered nudge and comment of “if anything happens to me, I’ll come here” is quite normal. Whilst I mention normal, that is something that is apparent from the variety of families choosing a green funeral. Also gone are the days when the majority of decent funeral directors regard this as exclusively burial for tree huggers or atheists. It is mainstream now, actually it always has been. I believe this will continue, although I wonder how many years before it equals the level of cremation.