According to some sources, the modern concept of natural (or 'green') burial began in the UK in the early 1990s before spreading around the world. In most cases, the term green funerals is synonymous with eco funerals, meadow burials and woodland burials. And with several hundred woodland burial sites available for green funerals in the UK (compared to just 50 in the late 1990s), it's never been a more attractive option for those planning their own, or a loved one's funeral.
What does a green funeral involve?
Typically, providers of meadow or woodland burial stipulate no specific type of service; religious, secular, no service at all, formal or informal, the choice is left with the family. Rather than embalming them after their death, a typical eco funeral involves wrapping the deceased in a biodegradable burial shroud and burying them in a suitable biodegradable container such as one of the following:
Although some woodland burial sites may allow a biodegradable wooden 'headstone', other providers simply mark the final resting place with a stone or a tree. Often, there's even the option to choose the natural vegetation that will grow around your grave: whether it's a broad-leaved tree or a brightly coloured patch of meadow flowers, the choice lies with the deceased and their family.
As a further source of comfort to the family in years to come, woodland burial sites are usually open to friends and family to visit. What's more, woodlands of remembrance are often managed in conjunction with local authorities and wildlife trusts to ensure that they develop in ways that are beneficial to animals and plants.
What are the Environmental Agency's guidelines for green burials?
For anyone contemplating a DIY green burial, the Environment Agency's publication Funeral practices, spreading ashes and caring for the environment (available as a free PDF download from the Environment Agency's website), gives the following advice:
Sites should be more than 30m from springs, running or standing water (and more than 10m from any 'dry' ditch or field drain)
Sites should be at least 50m away from any well, borehole or spring that provides water for any use
When preparing a grave, ensure there is no standing water when it is first dug, and that the grave is not dug in very sandy soil
Ensure at least 1m of soil above and below the body at burial
Though permission is required from the owner of private land, there is no requirement to contact the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO), or the Department of Health or the Environment Agency if you are planning a woodland funeral.
Advantages of woodland burials
Woodland burial sits well with many people's environmental concerns and offers several perceived advantages, including the following:
How are green funerals arranged?
In the UK, the Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) reflects a growing movement among farmers, local authorities, wildlife trusts and other groups to promote the benefits of natural burial grounds required for green and woodland burials. As well as publishing The Natural Death Handbook, the ANBG also promotes a code of practice to be followed by member organisations that operate green burial sites. Useful information and a range of useful publications are also available from the association at