Green Living and… Dying

Green Living is something we should all aspire to, but how many of us have considered the impact we will have through our dying? Death, like taxes, is one of the certainties in life, but few of us like to think about it until we absolutely have to.

When we do – perhaps when we are faced with arranging a funeral for a family member, there is a simple choice – burial or cremation? From this decision the progress of the funeral arrangements is normally dictated by the local facilities and the faith or beliefs of the deceased or the bereaved. It is only a tiny percentage of bereaved families who consider the environmental aspect of the funeral; for most people the emotions of grief and loss overshadow any recently acquired awareness of environmental issues, the need for the comfort of ritual and socially acceptable tradition outweighs that of a consideration of ‘Green Dying’.

The facts, however, are stark – over 72% of funerals in the UK are cremations – according to the latest figures available from the Federation of British Cremation Authorities, there were 424,956 cremations held in 2004. Each cremator operates at a temperature of up to 1150 degrees Centigrade, for around 75 minutes per body. In the process around 285 kilowatt-hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity is consumed – roughly the same energy demands as an average person would use in a month. According to the Environment Agency, 16% of all mercury emissions are created from cremation, and 11% of UK atmospheric dioxin resulting from combustion. Directives to halve the mercury emissions by 2012 have been issued to the 650 crematoria in the UK, although, ironically, one way of achieving this target is to cremate at higher temperatures, leading to more emissions.

Burial as an alternative seems therefore preferable from an environmental point of view – but space is rapidly running out in traditional cemeteries, a legacy from Government and Church mismanagement of burial space from the 18th century onwards. In inner cities, some cemeteries are completely full, leaving families a choice of often costlier burial in another borough, or the alternative of cremation. With an estimated number of deaths in the UK of over 590,000 people each year over the coming three years, the problem of what we do with our dead is not going to go away.

For those who care about how their living has an impact on the world around them, the time to consider how their dying will affect the world they leave behind is now – before the time comes and their families are left to choose the lesser of two evils. Take some time to research alternatives, and then make sure that your loved ones know exactly what you want to happen to your body when you die.

At Woodland Burial Parks, years of experience of the needs of bereaved families have been combined with specialist knowledge and expertise in woodland management to enable us to offer a unique alternative to the traditional funeral choices. Unlike the majority of other ‘green burial’ sites in the UK, we have acres of existing mature woodland where burials and ash scatterings and interments take place. Under our specialist management, previously neglected areas of woodland are gradually restored to native broadleaf species, with the accompanying proliferation of biodiversity in both flora and fauna, all the while offering bereaved families the solace and comfort of a place of rest for their loved ones amongst the beauty and tranquillity of established woodland.

In each of our parks, purpose built, sustainable and award winning ceremonial buildings are available where funeral services can take place, ensuring that families can have the ritual and ceremony that help alleviate the distress and shock of experiencing death. The need for marking the place of burial is provided for by the opportunity to place wooden memorials, although many families choose to allow the grave to blend naturally into the surrounding landscape. Nest boxes or bat boxes may be used as an alternative memorial if preferred.

Previously private woodland is open to the public to visit throughout the year, and the local communities are encouraged to use and enjoy the burial parks with events and activities – Dawn Chorus Walks, musical events, children’s Nature Trails and Easter Egg Hunts, nest box building and art exhibitions all ensure that our burial parks are places where the cycle of life is celebrated. Among the trees, those whose lives have ended rest peacefully while life continues all around them, and the knowledge that death and life are intertwined in a sustainable, everlasting and environmentally kind way brings comfort to everyone who chooses this alternative way of facing one of life’s two inevitabilities.

Visit our website to find out more about our burial parks, which are situated at Colney Wood, in Norwich, and at Epping, just north of London. A third park, at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, is due to open later this year. An Open Weekend is being held at Epping on May 10th and 11th with an exhibition, willow weaving demonstrations, children’s art exhibition and a choral concert, as well as an ‘Owl Encounter’. For more information, or to request a brochure, call 01992 523863 or e-mail

Fran Hall Woodland Burial Parks Ltd

Related Links

Eco funerals and green burials