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What is a woodland burial?

In a woodland burial the person who has died is buried in a designated woodland, usually a natural burial ground that’s privately owned. It’s a type of natural burial that’s more environmentally friendly than a traditional burial or cremation.

No headstones or traditional coffins are used. Instead the grave marker may be a tree or plant. Or there may be no grave marker at all depending on the rules of the woodland burial ground. And biodegradable coffins are used. They’re made from materials like wicker, willow or recycled cardboard. This is so that the natural wildlife in the woodland is left as undisturbed as possible.

Does a body have any treatment for a woodland burial?

Woodland burials don’t allow embalming. This is because the chemicals can pollute the ground. So the body won’t be treated before the burial. Instead a biodegradable coffin or shroud is used to limit the impact the burial has on the environment.

Can you be cremated for a woodland burial?

Some woodland burial sites will allow cremated ashes to be buried. Some won’t. It’s best to check this when you’re looking for a suitable woodland burial site. The ashes will need to be put into a biodegradable pot for burial so that it follows the rules that most of these sites have. This may be a good option for you if you’d like to have a fuss-free cremation. Then your loved ones can hold the burial at a later date if that’s what they’d like.

What happens at a woodland burial?

A woodland burial involves either a body or cremated ashes being buried in the ground using biodegradable materials. The burial can be part of a funeral service or it can happen after the service if you’d like. Some woodland burial sites have small halls or a building where a service can take place. Others may only offer a graveside service. But there doesn’t have to be a funeral service at all, if you don’t want one.

Woodland burials can be flexible depending on what you’d like. They can be religious or non-religious. You could have a celebrant to lead the service or ask a family member to lead things instead. The owner of the burial site can fit around what you’d like as long as it follows their rules to protect the woodland and wildlife. So think about what’s most important to you and shape the woodland burial around that.

Can you have a plaque at a woodland burial?

Woodland burial grounds have varying rules on whether plaques and other memorials can be used. Usually any plaques made from unnatural materials won’t be allowed. This is because they may interfere with the natural habitats of wildlife in the woodland. But some woodland burial grounds may allow plaques and other memorials made from materials that naturally decay over time.

You may find that some woodland burial sites offer a more eco-friendly way of remembering a loved one. Here are some things they may suggest:

  • Place a wooden plaque that’ll age naturally with a short inscription on
  • Plant a tree in keeping with the surroundings
  • Scatter wildflower seeds
  • Lay a small stone tablet on the grave that won’t interfere with wildlife

Some woodland burial sites have strict rules on preserving the grounds. So they may not allow any type of memorial at all. But they’ll usually have a map of the grounds so that you can find where someone has been buried and visit the plot.

How much does a woodland burial cost?

The cost of a woodland burial ranges from a few hundred pounds to thousands. This is because of a number of things like:

  • The burial site you choose. As woodland burial sites are privately owned they’ll all have their own price lists. And they’ll change from one site to another.
  • The plot you choose on the site. Some woodland burial sites will be part of a larger natural burial site that also includes other burial plots in fields or wildflower meadows. Plots in different locations on the site may cost more or less depending on how difficult it is to prepare the plot.
  • The length of lease on the burial plot. Some woodland burial sites may offer an exclusive lease on a plot for 50 to 100 years. The longer the lease the more the plot could cost.
  • What optional extras you choose. You could keep things simple with just the burial itself. Or you could choose to remember a loved one with a service, biodegradable flower arrangements, and a tree planted in their memory. Depending on what the burial site provides you may have to pay more for these services. This won’t include the funeral director’s services either. So keep this in mind when arranging a funeral.

Need a more specific idea of costs? Take a look at the estimated costs of a natural burial (this includes woodland burial sites along with other natural burial sites like meadows and private park land.)

What to wear to a woodland burial?

If you’re organising a woodland burial for a loved one it’s up to you what guests wear. You could choose traditional black. Or you could ask guests to put on something colourful to celebrate the person’s life. Whatever you choose keep in mind the practicalities of a woodland burial. If you’re having a graveside service, for example, you might need to remind guests to bring suitable shoes and waterproof jackets. Ask the burial site owner what they think too. They should be able to tell you what other guests tend to wear or what they think may be appropriate.

How to arrange a woodland burial

Now you know more about woodland burials and whether it’s suitable for you or a loved one here’s what you’ll need to do to arrange it:

  • Contact a funeral director (if you need to). Even though you’ve chosen a woodland burial you may still need support from a funeral director. They’ll help you look after and transport the person who’s died to the burial site. Make sure you tell the funeral director that you’re arranging a natural burial so no embalming fluids are used, for environmental reasons.
  • Choose a biodegradable coffin or shroud. Your funeral director may be able to help you with this. But if you’re still unsure ask the woodland burial site owner for advice. They may be able to help you find one that’s suitable. Or they could speak to your funeral director about what the most eco-friendly options are.
  • If you’d prefer cremation organise this with your funeral director. You’ll need to ask the burial site about the most appropriate pot or urn to use for burial so that it follows their guidelines.
  • Organise the funeral service (if you’re having one). Whether you have a religious service, a short graveside service or no service at all, talk about this with the burial site owner and your funeral director. They’ll help you make the arrangements you need such as getting in touch with a celebrant if you need one.
  • Choose a memorial. If you want to remember a loved one by planting a tree, leaving a small wooden plaque behind or scattering wildflower seeds native to the forest, discuss this with the burial site owner. They’ll tell you what you can do while preserving natural habitats in the woodland.

For help arranging a woodland burial use our funeral director finder to find someone who’s familiar with natural burials. And use this list of natural burial grounds from the Natural Death Centre to find a woodland site near you.


Photo by David Vig on Unsplash