Eco Friendly Natural Burials
If you want to waste your body, pollute the air and release the 18% of you which is carbon, and increase global warming, choose cremation and read no further.
When I devised natural burial the purpose was simple; to place the burials in an environment that both protected and fostered wildlife. Human needs had to be secondary to ecology. The worlds first site opened in Carlisle in 1993. To avoid traditional veneered chipboard coffins with plastic handles, eco materials like cardboard were soon in use. Oak trees were planted on the graves and the grass was cut only once, late in the year. I knew what would happen but the speed of it was a surprise. Crickets were chirping in the first year, deer in the surrounding area leapt the fence and hid their fawns in the long grass. Hedgehogs were everywhere, kestrels hunted the voles and bluebells put on an increasing spring display.
What I learnt from natural burial had less to do with the environment and more to do with personal rights. People told me that natural burial put them in charge of a funeral; that there was no set pattern. They could do as they pleased, as much or as little as they wished. They took funeral services themselves or participated, even involving children. A local man set up as our first secular celebrant in Carlisle. Hothouse flowersand cellophane wrappings declined. People walked to graves instead of using vehicles.
Since then, over 300 sites have opened in the UK. Some are part of a local cemetery, but many are private or operated by a charity. They can be in established woodland but most are on fields that will transform into nature reserves. Some will be orchards. Others are based on farms where the grave will be grazed by farm animals within a few days of the burial. In recent years, sites that create wildflower meadow, often called Britain’s rain forest, have increased. With no trees on the site, the graves can be re-used after 100 years, if the necessary legislation is introduced by government. Even if your grave is not obvious under trees or grass, an electronic reader will identify the spot. But, all this increasing choice comes with a warning: buyer beware.
Natural burial sites that look immaculate because the grass is excessively mown are not ecologically sound. Short grass cannot nurture voles so no owls and few insects.
Sometimes, these sites have a strategy to reduce grass cutting after a few years to remedy this. Prices vary, often higher in private sites, yet these might offer high quality buildings and toilets. You have to decide.
Funeral directors opposed natural burial from the start. Promoting the virtues of cheap eco coffins and long grass did not fit the traditional American style funeral. Even today, many big companies want to flog you a teak veneered coffin, with plastic lining and plastic handles, and to embalm your body with a carcinogenic solution, to pink you up, to make you look a really healthy corpse. Many will not offer you a natural burial option unless you ask. They will assume cremation and ease you that way. Some will say that natural burial is an alternative to a religious funeral. In reality, they are used by all.
Natural burial is not about harking back to some dreamy arcadia but taking the best from the past, adding present day knowledge, and creating a new sustainable way forward. It was created before we really understood global warming. Funerals have never been environmentally sound. The rich used oak and rainforest timbers, memorial stone was imported with a huge carbon footprint. Much of that stone was cut by children in distant countries. Most cemeteries and churchyards were ‘tidied’ in the past leading to the collapse of the barn owl population. You can’t even buy flowers or a wreath in innocence. The flowers are flown in from countries where workers are exposed to dangerous horticultural chemicals.
If you are lucky you will now have a green funeral director in your area. They will know the nearest natural burial sites, stock bamboo, wicker and sea grass coffins, all with a low carbon footprint. They will understand why natural burial has been called ‘the single greatest environmental initiative in the UK’. You, though, have a part to play. After a death, I have met relatives who simply could not accept the unconventional funeral, such as using an eco coffin, which the deceased had chosen whilst alive.
You might think that you own your body, even a dead one. Beware! The law disagrees as you cannot leave binding instructions about your funeral. Your executor or next of kin can do precisely as they wish. Make sure that they support your wishes and understand why you are committed to a natural burial.
Experts suggest that if natural burial is chosen then the body represents a gift to nature, a similar gift to giving blood or donating the body to medical research.
Alternatively, you might see it as a gift to the new Gods; the environmental or recycling.
This is promoted by natural burial sites through slogans such as ‘let your last footprint be a green one’ or ‘leave this world a better place’. It can give deep, psychological satisfaction to people who feel that through their death they are supporting the collective good of humanity and often expressing their philosophy of life. If you love the countryside, trees, birds, keep bees, run an allotment or love butterflies, then it is for you.
After my retirement in 2006, I decided to write a book called ‘A Guide to Natural Burial’.
It was published in 2010 but unfortunately I lost the copyright and it is no longer mine.
It’s available as a specialist title from Sweet & Maxwell priced £81.00. You really only need this book if you plan to open a natural burial site or you want to be a funeral professional. Subsequently, because I wanted the person in the street to understand funerals, I wrote R.I.P. Off! or The British Way Of Death as a self published black humour story. It tells the story of how the funeral mafia tried to close down natural burial. Also, how it succeeded because the bereaved gave it support. The book will shock, yet it will also guide you through today’s funeral world and put you in charge.
Many people believe that the soul ‘goes on’ in some way. Atheists will be comfortable that this is as atoms, as part of a tree. The religious might see it as an an earthly paradise, a place of life within which God’s numerous natural systems interact. The corpse is not waste material rather than the seed of new life; this poses a profound question; whether the dead die at all. There is continuity and people feel bonds to the site, which reinforces the feeling that death is not in vain and that it can have purpose.
Many people believe that the soul ‘goes on’ in some way.
So, honour the dead, all working positively for us and defeating global warming – but only in a natural burial site!