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Guide to Woodland Burials

For many people, a traditional funeral held in a crematorium or other religious building is the most obvious choice for a loved one. However, there is now increased focus on the environment and green living which is bringing about a change. The number of people looking at greener funeral options is increasing.

Natural burials are on the increase, as are the number of woodland burial sites. In this post we’ll explore the idea of laying a loved one to rest surrounded by trees and wildflowers and why this type of green funeral is becoming an increasingly attractive option for families to say goodbye.

What is a woodland burial?

You often see woodland burials referred to as a natural burial or green funeral. A woodland burial is an environmentally-friendly alternative to a more traditional burial or cremation. Quite often, this type of funeral is held in a woodland, surrounded by countryside.

Most woodland burial sites offer several options, for example, a burial plot, burial, or scattering of ashes.

To minimise the environmental impact, this more natural style of funeral uses biodegradable coffins and prohibits embalming. The burial sites are designed to preserve the existing natural habitat and the species that live there.

Woodlands are not the only location for a green funeral. Some sites use orchards, farmland, or meadows.

What happens at a woodland burial?

A woodland burial is one of the more flexible types of funeral services. There is no traditional order of service to follow and no need for funeral hymns or religious readings, unless this is what you want.

The ceremony can take many different forms. Some people choose not to hold a ceremony at all. Instead, they make a memory walk through the woodland burial ground to where their loved one’s memorial will be placed. Part of the ceremony includes sharing moments of remembrance with close family and friends.

Some woodland burial sites have a building or service centre where you can hold a service if you desire. Many natural burial sites also have special areas for outdoor wakes. Often there will be a large tent, yurt, or gazebo.

There is no need to follow any protocol. There will be site guidelines you’ll have to respect, but these tend to focus on protecting the site. Apart from that, you can be as flexible as you wish.

A popular option after a woodland burial service is to scatter wildflower seeds and turn the grave into a natural flower bed that bees and butterflies are drawn to.

Natural burial grounds in the UK

There are woodland burial sites across the UK, all of which are very different. Natural burials are largely unregulated in the UK, however, sites that belong to the Association of Natural Burial Grounds are bound by their code of conduct. The code aims to ensure the highest professional and environmental standards.

Members pay a membership fee and this money helps to fund the work of the Natural Death Centre Charity, both helping and advising individual family's and assisting new burial grounds to become established.

In addition, the Natural Death Centre runs The People’s Awards for the best Natural Burial Ground in the UK. These awards celebrate the personal attention to detail and support given by staff at natural burial grounds.

You can also find a wealth of useful information about woodland burial sites by visiting the Woodland Burial Trust website.

The cost of a woodland burial

When it comes to funeral costs, a woodland burial can cost as little as a few hundred pounds or as much as several thousand. It very much depends on the cost of the burial plot, the service involved, the coffin, and other arrangements such as transport, flowers, and whether there will be a memorial.

To give you an idea of what you might pay here are a couple of examples:

  • A single burial plot at Brocklands Woodland Burial Site in North Yorkshire is £480, plus a £590 interment fee.
  • Single burial space at the Woodland Trust is £900,
  • A burial plot in Dalton Natural Woodland Burial Ground is £1195.

Coffins suitable for a woodland burial

Most woodland burial sites offer coffins in a range of materials such as cardboard, bamboo, wool, willow, wicker, or banana leaves. A biodegradable coffin costs on average between £100 and £1,000. Cardboard is usually at the lower end of the scale, while wool is the most expensive.

A shroud can also be used if people prefer to see their loved one wrapped in soft fabric instead of a coffin, or for religious reasons. Typical materials include muslin, silk, hemp, or cotton.

Interring the ashes of a loved one

It is possible to be cremated and give the ashes a permanent resting place in a woodland burial ground. This is called an interment of ashes. This can be a good way of waiting to hold a service until everyone feels ready. Intering ashes is also more affordable than burial at a woodland burial site. The urn would have to be made of biodegradable material.