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Burial study breaks new ground

Religion & Society (UK)
Resource Podcasts
02 April 10

In the space of just 20 years a new kind of burial practice which started in the UK has grown here, and begun to spread around the world.  Natural [or woodland] burial grounds across the country now number over 200, not far short of the number of crematoria.

The first academic study of them is being conducted by Hannah Rumble.  Entitled “British Woodland Burial: its theological, ecological and social values”, it is a Collaborative Studentship project in which she is working on her doctoral thesis in collaboration with the Arbory Trust, the first Church of England charity to run such a burial site.

Hannah has interviewed pre-registered users [who have booked a grave for themselves for natural burial], relatives and friends of those who have been buried in this way, celebrants, clergy, practitioners who run such burial grounds, and undertakers.

Those who choose natural burial repeatedly talk about the ecological value of “putting something back”, their love of nature, and of not wishing to leave a grave which will be a burden to maintain.  Relatives sometimes report a tension between those ideals and their own needs, saying that while attractive in spring and summer, autumn and winter can be very demanding emotionally.

Many relatives say that these are vibrant spaces, where graves are not clearly delineated as they are in cemeteries and churchyards, so it is possible to visit the burial place of a loved one feeling that it is a very free and personal spot.  However, most graves can only be marked in a temporary way until woodland establishes itself, and that may not meet the need of the relatives in the way that the person who chose the grave anticipated.

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