What is a woodland burial, why choose it, and how do you arrange this kind of eco-friendly farewell? Let’s take a look…

 

What is a woodland burial?

A woodland burial is just that – a burial in a woodland area. Like other forms of natural burial, it’s considered more environmentally-friendly than burial in a cemetery.

This is down to the way woodland burial sites are run and maintained. These organisations aim to protect the environment and help the plants and wildlife in their grounds flourish. They also encourage the natural breakdown of the body in the earth.

As such, woodland burials are different to traditional cemetery burials in a few key ways:

  • The person who has died isn’t embalmed. Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde and other strong chemicals that can seep into groundwater.
  • They are dressed in biodegradable clothes. Natural fabrics, like wool and cotton, are usually encouraged. These break down more easily after the person is buried.
  • An eco-friendly coffin or shroud is used. About 89% of all coffins sold in the UK are made with a glue that contains formaldehyde. For a woodland burial, a biodegradable woven coffin or shroud made from a sustainably sourced material, like willow or wool, is used instead.
  • There’s not usually a headstone. Depending on the woodland burial ground, you may be able to plant a tree or place a birdbox instead. You can usually find a grave in a woodland cemetery using a map or a geotag. Occasionally, you may be able to place a plaque on a nearby tree. Some sites don’t allow any physical markers at all, however.
  • The grave is a little shallower. Traditional cemeteries bury people very deep to allow room for potential future burials. However, this slows down the rate of decomposition, keeping the body and coffin from re-joining the natural life cycle. Woodland burial grounds tend to have slightly shallower graves to encourage microbial activity.
  • Native plants are used. Visitors are encouraged to plant native trees and wildflowers to remember the person who has died. Wreaths are also all-natural, with no plastic base or ties.

Find out more about natural burials here.

 

Why choose a woodland burial?

Woodland burial ground

Woodland burial is a standard part of a “green funeral”, as it’s a very eco-friendly way to lay a body to rest. It tends to appeal to those who support the environment and love to spend time in nature.

In many cases, woodland burial grounds protect an area of woodland by giving it a purpose that leaves it mostly undisturbed. So, a woodland burial can be a lovely way to help save an area of natural beauty for generations to come.

Woodland burials can also be a good option for those who find cemeteries gloomy or daunting to visit. Without headstones, it is easy to walk around a woodland burial ground and dwell on your memories of the person who died, rather than on the number of people buried there.

There’s a final benefit to woodland burial: cost. The burial plot is a one-off purchase and there’s usually no need to pay for upkeep. In contrast, traditional burial plot rights often need to be renewed after a set period of time (25-100 years).

 

Where can I find woodland burial sites?

The Natural Death Centre has a list of woodland burial sites across the country here. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly funeral director, Beyond’s comparison tool can tell you which companies offer natural burial.

If you’ve chosen woodland burial for environmental reasons, bear in mind that some sites are stricter than others when it comes to embalming. Given the harm embalming fluid can do to the nearby soil and water, we recommend doing a little extra research before you make your decision.

 

How much does a woodland burial cost?

Woodland burial plots usually cost around £700, but can be up to £6,000 depending on the plot and burial ground you choose.

Additional costs to think about are:

  • Interment (the actual burial). Sometimes this is included in the cost of the plot, so make sure you check. This is usually around £300-500.
  • Buying a coffin. Natural burial sites usually require biodegradable coffins or shrouds made from materials like cardboard, wicker, willow, bamboo, wool, cotton, leaves or grasses. These can cost as little as £100.
  • Placing a memorial plaque or wildlife box. These can help you find a grave in a woodland burial ground. These cost £50-100.
  • Planting a tree. Also helpful when seeking a plot. About £300-500 depending on the site and the type of tree.

 

Ideas for a woodland burial

Here are a few ways to make a woodland burial really special:

  • Biodegradable coffins are easy to decorate. You and your family could weave native flowers into a wicker coffin, or paint designs onto it using henna or non-toxic paints as a way to bond and comfort each other ahead of the funeral.
  • Ask your funeral director or celebrant to play birdsong or folk songs during the service.
  • Pick a nature-themed passage or poem to read during the ceremony. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver is a beautiful example.
  • Give funeral guests packets of native wildflower seeds to scatter at the graveside service.
  • Travel to the woodland a year after the funeral to plant a native tree over the grave.
  • Some woodland burial sites let you place a bird, bat or owl box nearby as a memorial. If it’s allowed, you could consider making and bringing seed balls to feed the birds when you visit in the future.

Woodland burial sites are protected from development, meaning they will be kept as wild spaces long into the future. They’re great places to honour someone who was passionate about nature and the environment. Whether you’re making arrangements for someone close to you, or planning your own funeral, a woodland burial can be a very meaningful and peaceful place for friends and family to visit for years to come.

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