Traditional Vs Natural Burial Grounds
In an era of heightened environmental consciousness, more and more people are looking to reduce their impact on their surroundings. This is usually done during a person’s life, but more recently, the availability of natural burial grounds has opened the door to people reducing their impact on the environment even after they’re gone.
As a Funeral Celebrant based in Yorkshire, I often perform ceremonies at natural burial grounds, and they can be some of the most beautiful and meaningful farewells that I deliver. But why choose a natural burial ground, and what makes a good one?
Traditional vs Natural Burial Grounds
You may be thinking: “What exactly is wrong with a traditional burial? People have been buried for years in graveyards near churches, and it’s important to me to have somewhere I can go to remember my lost loved one, or where my family can go to remember me. I really want a traditional burial when I die.”
That’s fine. It’s your prerogative. And for the very legitimate reasons above, many people will continue to have traditional burials in traditional burial grounds marked with headstones in the many years to come.
Natural burial grounds often don’t look very different to parks or forests.
But more and more people are now opting for natural burials at natural burial grounds. The reasons for this are varied, but most, if not all of them, have something to do with the idea that they are better for the environment.
A truly green burial ground will reject cremation and embalming of the body and will not cater to any demarcation, personalisation, and tending of the grave. Graves are usually hand-dug, and bodies are buried at a shallow enough depth that the body is able to decompose aerobically. Visits to the grave should be on foot or by bike. Essentially, a real green funeral leaves no trace behind.
This may seem extreme to many, and in all honesty, it is: very few natural burial grounds actually fulfil all of the above criteria, nor do they have many clients who actually demand that such strict criteria are met. Most will cater to a handful of the above. One key aspect that they will all strive for, though, is the following: that it is not the grave that commemorates the life lived, but the entire site.
If any of this is appealing to you, your next step is to find your nearest burial ground and see what kind of burials they offer. Below are the best options for those based in Yorkshire. I recommend visiting any site before making any decision.
Brocklands Woodland Burial, Settle
North of England Regional Winner at the People’s Awards for Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK for the last three years – 2017, 2018, and 2019 – Brocklands Woodland Burial is the go-to natural burial site for anyone living in or near North Yorkshire.
Set in the beautiful Ribble Valley in the Yorkshire Dales, Brocklands has been open since 2000, and it offers natural burials where trees or wildflowers – always those that are native to the region – are planted on each grave.
Woodchip paths weave casually through the site, and it also boasts a small converted barn perfect for mid-sized ceremonies. One of the best in the region by far.
Tarn Moor Memorial Woodland, Skipton
Regional runner-up in Yorkshire at the People’s Awards for Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK in 2013, Tarn Moor has been under the supervision of Becky and Chris Swales since October 2019 and is a peaceful, tranquil and scenic setting for your loved ones to be laid to rest.
The grounds do not offer any physical demarcation of burial sites, but accurate plotting and recording are done to ensure that future generations can locate the place of burial. There are no headstones, and no vases of flowers allowed by the graves. There is also an area for the scattering of ashes.
The entire site, unlike most others of its kind, is earmarked for the specific purpose of being a natural burial grounds, with a fifty-year plan to develop the 10-acre site with areas of meadow, woodland, open space, and conservation.
Speeton Village Association Natural Burial Ground, Filey
With one of the most dramatic views in Yorkshire, Speeton Village Association Natural Burial Ground is the perfect option for those living on the East Coast of North Yorkshire. The grounds, which looks over the magnificent Filey Bay, offers breathtaking scenery, bracing coastal air, and a quiet calmness, all of which combine for the perfect farewell ceremony.
Located behind the parish church of St Leonard’s in Speeton, the grounds welcomes people of all faiths and none, and access for mourners is unrestricted, meaning you can visit your loved ones at any time.
Mourners have the option to have a graveside ceremony, a ceremony in the tiny Saxon church building itself, or a simple interment followed by a ceremony or wake elsewhere. Graves are covered by natural flowers, shrubs, and trees, although no scattering of ashes is allowed; they can be buried as long as they’re in a bio-degradable container.
The Meadow Cemetery, Doncaster
South Yorkshire offers the restful Meadow Cemetery in Doncaster. It has been operating as a natural burial ground since 2010, when hundreds of native trees and shrubs were planted alongside a wildlife pond. It is now a peaceful haven of flora and fauna.
Next to Lady Wood and the historic village of Owston, Meadow Cemetery functions like most natural burial grounds – they only accept bio-degradable coffins, reject embalming and headstones, and are open to all faiths.
The grounds only carry out one interment per day, meaning families are under zero pressure to be rushed out of the door. This is in stark contrast to traditional burial grounds or crematoriums, where families often only have a small time slot to conduct their ceremony and say their goodbyes.
This is not an exhaustive list. You can find other burial grounds in Yorkshire, or in your area, on naturaldeath.org.uk
Mark is a funeral celebrant and can be contacted through his website at https://markyouroccasion.com/