Now that we are all being made aware of our carbon footprints, perhaps we should begin to think about the impact on the environment of our final resting place and consider the idea of a woodland burial where the planting of trees helps will encourages wildlife to the site.
In a woodland burial the body or ashes are laid to rest in a place which remains as natural as possible and the materials and methods used for burial are environmentally sound. There are no headstones, monuments or concrete vaults, and no embalming fluids or toxic chemicals are allowed to pollute the atmosphere. Coffins can be made of biodegradable substances such as wicker, willow (available from P.H. Coate & Son at Stoke St. Gregory), bamboo, pine or cardboard.
The grave is just a simple plot with grass where a tree may be planted bearing a small plaque with the name of the deceased; or there may be nothing at all, just wild flowers and pastures.
Woodland burials are becoming more popular and the natural burial movement is one of the fastest growing environmental movements in the country. There are now over 200 natural burial sites in Britain. Many are run privately, but some local authorities have set aside part of the municipal cemetery for a woodland burial area.
A part of the cemetery at Bedminster, south of Bristol, has been made into a natural woodland burial area and it is a delightful place to visit.
Each resting place is marked by a young tree with a small plaque bearing the name of the deceased and the names of those who remember them. Some have a wild flowers around the base, and tokens such as windchimes have been placed in the trees. It is a simple and restful place in which to remember one’s loved ones.
Information on how to arrange a woodland burial and a list of such sites can be obtained from The Natural Death Centre (Hill House, Watley Lane, Twyford, Winchester, SO21 1QX, Tel. 01962 712 690) whose book “The New Natural Death Handbook” gives a comprehensive guide to the law and practice on funerals and green burials. They are not a green pressure group but primarily a movement for social change, aiming to demystify the traditional funeral and encourage an awareness of funeral choices outside of the mainstream without the participation of a funeral director or priest.
Many people nowadays do not want a formal religious ceremony but would prefer a civil or non-denominational “service” or just a private family arranged send off.
Heaven on Earth (18 Upper Maudlin St. Bristol BS2 8DJ. Tel 0117 926 4999) is the delightful name of bespoke funeral directors in Bristol who will organise alternative (or traditional) funerals to your personal wishes. They also have a gift shop which has won major awards for best funeral shop, selling gifts from their own workshop and from abroad. As the only member of the Association of Green Funeral Directors in Bristol, they offer a friendly and personal service to the bereaved.
There is also a privately run memorial woodland burial ground at Thornbury, north of Bristol, which was created by Chris Baker (whose family once ran the Bristol department store Baker & Baker) from his inheritance at Rookery Farm a decade ago. A charitable trust is now responsible for the maintenance of the site which consists of mixed woodland and open planting and is a haven for wildlife from buzzards to deer. They also provide a bespoke funeral directing service with options for religious or non-religious services.
Nature intended that our bodies be reunited with the earth and everything is ultimately recycled. By choosing a woodland burial we will be leaving a lasting green legacy, enhancing the landscape in death if not in life.
In the words of Thomas Hardy’s poem Transformations:
“Portion of this yew is a man my grandsire knew
Bosomed here at its foot
This branch may be his wife.
A ruddy human life now turned to a green shoot”
Maureen Bezzant, Summer 2011. Online exclusive.
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