If you’re ethically-minded or you’ve been at all eco-conscious during your life, then you might be thinking that a woodland burial is something you’d prefer. Some people have a special connection to the outdoors during their lives – gardeners and farmers, in particular.
But what’s involved, exactly? Does it mean you have to give up some of your family’s traditions – like hymns, or wearing formal clothes? Let’s take a look at woodland burials and some of the traditional funeral options you might want to think about too, as an alternative.
What is a woodland burial?
Let’s dispel some myths. A woodland burial isn’t ‘all hippies and things’. It’s an environmentally-friendly alternative to a traditional burial, with the interment taking place in a specially designated burial ground. That may be a wood set aside exclusively for burials, or it might be a piece of woodland that’s connected to a larger cemetery.
Many families decide a woodland burial would be calming or even reassuring, and – in some ways – less stressful than attending a service at a crematorium or a church.
There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, which means there’s a good chance there’s one close to you and your family. The Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) was set up by the Natural Death Centre to help promote good standards. You’ll find a full list of woodland burial grounds signed up to the ANBG’s Code of Conduct, here.
What kind of coffin can you use in a woodland burial?
Most woodland burial grounds in the UK will expect you to choose an eco-friendly coffin. One that doesn’t use harsh glues or materials that don’t decompose easily. Something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton. For families with younger children, a bamboo or wicker coffin can seem far less imposing than a traditional coffin; natural materials are more tactile.
Woodland burials versus traditional burials – what’s the difference?
At a woodland burial, the grave is likely to be quite shallow. That doesn’t mean it’s disrespectful at all. It simply encourages the microbial processes that are necessary to aid all natural decomposition. Coffins are only buried deeply in a traditional cemetery to allow room for future burials alongside.
Some woodland burial grounds will keep records of where the coffin is places, but many families like the idea of woodland burials because they see the whole wood as an ever-changing, natural memorial. It can be far less distressing to remember someone by walking through a natural, quite piece of woodland. In fact, it’s quite unusual to find headstones in a woodland burial ground. Some sites offer the opportunity to plant a tree, or to have a small and discreet plaque placed on a nearby tree. Some don’t allow any markers at all.
As for the day itself? There’s no reason why your family shouldn’t sing the songs they want to, bring natural flowers or wreathes, wear the clothes they feel most comfortable in, or commemorate your life in any way that feels natural to them.
How much does a woodland burial cost?
Prices do vary, depending on whereabouts you live. When you buy a funeral plan through Safe Hands, we can find out what the costs for a woodland burial plot would be in your local area – and then include that cost in your Safe Hands funeral plan (it’s included as a contribution towards the cost, rather than a pre-paid funeral item). But in general, interment at a woodland burial ground is slightly more expensive than traditional interment in a churchyard. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds,, depending on where you live.
Who ‘runs’ a woodland burial?
All of the woodland burial sites in the UK have connections to local funeral directors, who can advise and support your family when the time comes. We work with very many of those funeral directors already. But even in advance, you can decide who you’d like to lead the service. There’s no reason why you might not ask your faith leader if they’d conduct a religious ceremony, or you might prefer the event to be guided by a celebrant or a humanist with no religious content. In fact, you might ask one of your family to lead the ceremony – there’s nothing to stop that happening. Taking control of your funeral plans now gives you much more choice over what happens later.
How could I have a ‘natural’ funeral, instead?
Woodland burials are sometimes referred to as green burials, but a ‘natural’ burial doesn’t have to take place in a wood to be considered a little more eco-friendly.
That’s the reward for making your end-of-life planning part of life’s normal financial planning – you can decide now, how and what you’d like to include in your own funeral plans.
For example, you might want to pay for a traditional funeral but insist on a willow or bamboo coffin instead. You might ask your family to choose ethically sourced flowers, or have the orders of service printed on recycled paper. Or you might even talk to your family about their transport plans – it’s entirely up to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan but you’d like to talk about including a woodland burial – our team would be happy to help.