I thought our readers might like to find out why someone gets involved with running a natural burial ground, so I asked Samantha Lonergan at Crouch Valley Meadow in Essex some probing questions.
Who are you and how did this all come about?
“Hi, my name is Samantha. I’m 48 years old, married with 3 children and I opened Crouch Valley Meadow in 2004”.
What inspired you?
“I was visiting my brother in Devon and we visited a family grave at a woodland burial ground near to him in Totnes. As I stood on the site with the sun shining through the trees, I thought, ‘This is the sort of spot I would like for my final resting place’ ”.
Starting a burial ground after visiting one on a personal basis is becoming a bit of a theme, you know. I can think of several other operators whose visits to existing burial sites inspired them to open their own.
Were you working back then?
“Yes, at the time I was working as a project manager. I have a background in Human Resources and Sustainable Development. My husband and father are farmers and when I took voluntary redundancy I persuaded them to support me in applying for planning permission to change a 2 acre agricultural field into a green burial ground. The idea was to share my field and its lovely views with like-minded people who also wish to help create a beautiful, English wood – an area of native trees, shrubs and flowers that support wildlife.
Do you think you will reach a point of ‘death fatigue’ ?
No, I will always work at the Meadow; it is part of my life. I like to meet every family who chooses their own or their love one’s final resting place here. Either Ross or I attend every funeral. Mind you, generally, our role on the day is car park attendant!
What do you do when not meeting folk and parking cars?
We have a vineyard growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. It surrounds the burial Meadow on two sides so when I’m not there I spend time helping Ross with the farm.
That sounds great – burial site for oenophiles! I think that is possibly unique!
Can you give us a feel of the site?
Standing in the middle of the Meadow with my eyes closed I can hear birds singing, small animals moving about, the trees swaying in the breeze and insects hovering around me. There are many birds to see at the Meadow, from the common magpie, sparrow, swallow, thrush, wagtail, pigeon and robin as well as our resident woodpecker and visiting birds of prey including kestrels, owls & buzzards.
The river is only a 10 minute walk away; you have a clear view of it from the Meadow’s South facing slope, and when the wind is in the right direction you can smell the salty sea air.
I suppose, like the rest of us, you have seen some interesting send- offs?
Yes. This is our eleventh year and we have been part of and witnessed some amazing and extraordinary funerals. There have been beautiful coffins, made and painted by the families and friends. We have had biker funerals with Harley Davidson hearse and motorbike processions and also a Horse and Carriage hearse with bright coloured ostrich plumes.
Over the years we have seen more families preferring to arrange and conduct the funeral themselves. Celebrations with live music and singing are becoming more common and are always lovely to listen to in the natural setting at the Meadow looking out to the river and across the countryside.
What are your biggest problems and greatest joys?
Our biggest problem is plastic wrapping around cut flowers. It is harmful to the wildlife and looks horrible. Most people eventually understand it doesn’t have a place at Crouch Valley Meadow.
My greatest joy is knowing that we have helped families in a small way with their grief, and every year I watch the burial ground change with all the new native memorial trees and shrubs which have been planted as lasting legacies and contributing to the health and diversity of the environment.