As more attention is called to our relationship with the Earth, it’s only natural to extend these considerations for when we die. You may not be aware that some forms of burials can be incredibly toxic to both the environment and funeral professionals. But, there is a better way to make peace one final time with nature before you go: woodland burials.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Woodland Burial?
- How Much Does a Woodland Burial Typically Cost?
- What Happens at a Woodland Burial?
- How Do You Find a Woodland Burial Company or Site in the UK?
In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of woodland burials in the U.K., including the differences between them and other methods, how much they cost, what happens at them, and where you can find them. You may also be interested in these other burial alternatives.
What’s a Woodland Burial?
A woodland burial is an eco-friendly, natural, or green alternative to traditional burials and related practices. The terms “natural burial” and “green burial” are also considered interchangeable, so you don’t have to get too hung up on the different terminology. In a section below, however, we’ll discuss why there still may be some confusion between them.
Is there a difference between a green (natural) burial and a woodland burial?
Green burial options are also included under the umbrella of natural burial options. In fact, as we mentioned above, “green,” “natural,” and “woodland,” are all technically interchangeable terms. One difference, however, is that the term “woodland” is more reflective of these burial alternatives in the U.K.
All of these options, as the names suggest, mean that they’re not harmful to the environment or inflict the least harm possible. In fact, they inflict incredibly limited harm compared to more traditional options. You may be wondering what exactly makes a burial green, natural, or woodland. Does this mean it has to occur in the woods? Not exactly.
Furthermore, you’re likely wondering what goes into these types of funeral alternatives that make them considerably harmless. The biggest factor is the absence of embalming. Even though embalming does not occur, however, the entire sanctity of the funeral event isn’t changed. Much of it is able to be kept the same, as we’ll discuss.
Woodland means no embalming
A woodland burial is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burials and even cremations. Traditional burials typically require embalming, and even pre-cremation activities may require embalming practices.
If you’re unfamiliar, embalming is a method of preserving the body for both reasons of dignity and respect as well as sanitary reasons, more or less. Embalming may also occur for scientific, medical, or research purposes and is intended to preserve a body for a longer period of time.
Most commonly, embalming practices occur to make the body of the deceased person appear presentable for a funeral viewing, visitation, or wake. Embalming or preservative processes typically occur, too, if an autopsy needs to be completed or organs need to be harvested.
But why is embalming so widespread, even though it’s so potentially harmful? It’s an unfortunate truth the chemicals required to embalm someone are toxic, primarily due to the presence of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is not only carcinogenic (or potentially cancer-causing) for morticians, it can also seep into the surrounding soil once a person is buried and last for years.
Elements of woodland burials
Before we dive into how much a woodland burial costs, we’ll discuss a few elements of woodland burials in brief. Woodland burials, in order to maintain their limited impact on the environment, must follow certain guidelines.
Even though the body is not embalmed, for example, this doesn’t mean that viewings cannot occur. This is good news for families who place a special emphasis on viewings and believe in their power to begin the healing process.
Next, woodland burials require the use of a biodegradable coffin or shroud placed around the deceased person. Some types of coffins or shrouds can also contain seedlings to promote the healthy growth of trees or other plants in the person’s place.
Furthermore, graves in woodland burials are kept shallow, with no cement liner or vault. Eco-friendly materials are used to help promote the healthy decomposition of the body back into the earth with as limited impact as possible. While the specific site of your woodland or green burial may vary, it’s also common to go through a green cemetery.
One difference however, is that woodland burials typically prohibit the addition of any decorations, including grave markers. Simple stones may be permissible. This may vary, of course, and if nothing else may just require you to get more creative. Instead, you can consider planting a unique flower, plant, or tree at your loved one’s site.
How Much Does a Woodland Burial Typically Cost?
One of the other benefits of woodland and natural burials is that they’re considerably less expensive than traditional options in the majority of cases. This has to do with a variety of factors that differ, including the lack of a funeral plot, no coffin or expensive casket, no lengthy embalming process, no need for cremation services, and no continuous gravesite upkeep.
That being said, it is noted that the cost of woodland burials in the U.K. can vary considerably from a few hundred pounds to several thousand.
Natural burials are often cheaper, too, because they do not necessarily require a service to be held at a funeral home. Instead, nature is your backdrop, which can be incredibly soothing and cathartic for all those involved.
Not to mention, the more people who opt for natural burial alternatives, the less scarce space will become for those who prefer traditional options. And, of course, the more people who adhere to a more positive, Earth-friendly approach, the more likely this will catch on for generations to come.
What Happens at a Woodland Burial?
Woodland burials can be almost indistinguishable from other burials. That being said, there are some key differences to consider. The overall feeling of the event will be very natural and ethereal, of course, which you may prefer over the potential stuffiness of indoor services.
Order of service
For a woodland burial service, a site must be determined, first and foremost. There are some tips in the following section for finding a woodland burial company in the U.K. You should also research green cemeteries in your area, at least as a starting off point.
Depending on the family’s wishes, the funeral or burial may begin with a viewing or wake. This process may occur closer to the individual’s time of death, as no chemicals are used to preserve the body, only cold temperatures.
After the viewing, it’s expected that the family and loved ones of the deceased person will recite prayers, speeches, poems, readings, and other tributes to honor the person and lay them to rest. While the entire service may not occur alongside the burial, it is possible for an abbreviated version to take place.
Next, it’s likely that the person, shrouded in a biodegradable coffin or materials, will be placed in their grave. This grave will be more shallow than you might expect, and it won’t be lined with anything other than some potential natural materials to promote healthy decomposition.
Finally, the person is covered and the earth is replaced over them. The decomposition process will occur immediately, which is a beautiful thing. It’s important to consider that even though the person’s body is being left behind and transforming back into the earth, this doesn’t mean that the person’s presence is disappearing, too. On the contrary, it is being expanded and repurposed for more important things—including future life.
Guest etiquette and attire
Funeral etiquette and attire for woodland burials, though considered nontraditional, can still be rather elegant, if desired. That being said, special considerations—especially for footwear and appropriate layering—may have to be made if it is during the cold or wet season.
Since woodland burials are still unique, it’s quite likely, however, that the deceased person or their family will request some sort of unique dress or activity. To show your support in these cases, it’s important to make an attempt to adhere to any guidelines.
For example, you may be asked to dress in the colors of the person’s favorite flowers. Or, perhaps, you may be asked to dress comfortably to better enjoy yourself and your surroundings.
Above all, at any funeral event, respect should be the priority for both guests and those hosting the funeral. Though laughs can be shared (and even alcoholic beverages during the reception), this doesn’t mean that the deceased person doesn’t deserve to be laid to rest peacefully and with dignity. Furthermore, here are some tips about what to bring to a funeral, if you’re interested.
How Do You Find a Woodland Burial Company or Site in the UK?
You can also find additional support via the links in this article that refer to natural or green burials outside the U.K. However, there are a few notable sites that are found with a quick search for “woodland burials in the U.K.” via the Natural Death Centre Organization.
The woodland burial sites in the U.K. that come up prominently include the following. However, many others are found via the link provided above.
- Woodcock Hill Woodland Cemetery, Rickmansworth.
- Chesham Bois Woodland Burial Ground, Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
- Clayton Wood Natural Burial Ground, Hassocks, West Sussex.
- Deerton Natural Burial Ground, Sittingbourne, Kent.
- Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground, Kent and Surrey borders.
Other locations that you may search for to help you include “natural burial ground,” “conservation burial ground,” and “recomposition facility.” Even if any of these locations don’t have exactly what you want for a woodland burial, it’s likely that they can refer you elsewhere.
In the Woods But Not Lost
Choosing a natural, green, or woodland burial in either the U.S. or the U.K. has tons of benefits beyond the obvious. While they are intended to help preserve the environment and help decompose a body, there is much more to it.
Your loved one’s body is helping to pave the way for future life and the restoration of our fragile yet resilient environment. It’s a beautiful thing to look out at the sun shining on a patch of wildflowers or a group of trees in the area of your loved one’s burial (or even beyond it) and know that they played a role. Your loved one is not lost, they are just becoming part of something greater.
To make your or a family member’s green burial wishes a reality, check out more of Cake’s resources or complete a free end-of-life planning profile.
- “List of Natural Burial Grounds.” Natural Death Centre Org. http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/index.php?page=find-a-natural-burial-site