A couple of years ago, the NDC was contacted by a proactive chap from the Channel Islands who wished to be buried back on the mainland when his time came. He spent a couple of weeks touring the natural burial sites of the south of England that summer and wrote us a report.

He found greatness and skulduggery. The worst was a site operated by a diversifying funeral director. During his tour of that site, he enquired firstly about embalming and secondly about the types of coffin they accepted and was told

“Oh we don’t care ,mate, you have what you want”.

That site is not a member of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds and does not comply with our code of conduct. As far as we can tell it is making a fortune and creating a site that will have serious problems in the future due to completely inappropriate tree planting and land management.

 

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Caveat emptor

With the growing popularity of natural burial it is becoming increasingly obvious that some providers are less interested in the environment than in getting a share of the profits to be made, or. in other words their hands on the disbursement fees.

Anyone planning to have an environmentally friendly funeral should do some research beforehand to make sure their funeral does not fall victim to the phenomenon of ‘greenwash’:

ñ Greenwash – is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly.

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Questions to ask a woodland burial site

Here are some checks you might like to make to ensure a burial ground is a truly green, environmentally friendly one.

  • Is embalming discouraged / prohibited (other than in exceptional circumstances) by the burial ground?
  • Is this clearly highlighted in their literature and on their website
  •             If not, why not?
  • Do coffins have to be made from recycled / environmentally friendly, biodegradable materials and manufactured in a sustainable way? If the site allows MDF veneered or hardwood coffins, you may want to think again. Look for this in their literature and on their website.
  • Are coffins permitted to have plastic ‘crem film’ lining? This will not degrade and will wrap the deceased in a plastic cocoon once the coffin deteriorates.
  • At what depth are bodies buried? Aerobic decomposition is enhanced within a shallower grave.   Burial ‘six feet under’ will result in anaerobic, methane- generating decomposition.
  • What types of memorials are allowed? The greenest sites will simply mark the graves with memorial planting of trees, shrubs or native flora.
  • What is the policy on ‘grave goods’ , that is items placed inside the coffin by families?
  • What may be left on top of the graves? Many sites lose control of this and the ground becomes festooned with non- degradable, unsightly ‘grief litter’.
  • What is the planting policy of the burial ground? Are only native species of flowers and trees permitted? Is their provenance important to the burial site?
  • Will they allow families to conduct funerals without a funeral director? If not, it may also indicate that doing business with funeral directors and keeping them on side is more important than insisting that undertakers comply with their environmental requirements.
  • How is the site managed and maintained? Does the literature and website mention the wildlife present on the site and what they are doing to encourage more species. Do the staff know their stuff? Can they identify tree species and tell you about the different habitats on site?
  • Are the graves dug by hand? This is the greenest grave digging, which does not involve the use of a pollution- belching, gas- guzzling, mess- making, noisy machine. The graves are also neater and it is often cheaper to dig by hand.
  • If the site is manicured and regularly mown with petrol powered machines it could be viewed as a conventional lawn cemetery but without headstones. How is this green? Or is that a Bandwagon before you?

Article by Rosie Inman-Cook.