What is a woodland funeral?

A woodland funeral is an eco-friendly or green alternative to a traditional funeral.

Also known as a woodland burial, it usually involves having a natural burial in a woodland setting.

There are designated woodland burial sites across the UK, found within parks, farmlands and nature reserves.

These are carefully preserved areas of land that are left to develop naturally, offering an undisturbed and permanent resting place for the departed.

Interestingly, due to the simplicity of a woodland funeral, they can be more affordable than having a traditional funeral.

With the cost of funeral fees rising faster than inflation every year, many people will be looking out for cheaper alternatives.

Continue reading to learn more about woodland funerals and how much they cost…

What makes a woodland funeral eco-friendly?

A natural burial at a woodland burial site can be more environmentally friendly than a traditional burial funeral, because:

  • Embalming may not be permitted before the burial
    Toxic chemicals used for embalming, including formaldehyde, can leak into the soil after a burial
  • A biodegradable eco-coffin or shroud must be used
    Natural materials such cardboard, willow and wool are kinder to the environment than traditional wood-effect coffins. Shrouds can be made from cotton, jute and felt which biodegrade naturally
  • The grave is usually unmarked
    To allow the natural burial ground to blend into the landscape as much as possible. However, some woodland cemeteries will allow a natural memorial, such as the planting of a native tree or wildflowers or a simple wooden plaque.
  • The body is dressed in biodegradable clothes
    Fabrics such as organic cotton, wool and silk used for clothing can decompose quite easily compared to synthetic fabrics
  • The grave is three feet deep
    This allows the body (and the coffin or shroud) to return to the earth more quickly

Why have a woodland funeral?

Woodland funerals and natural burials are rising in popularity in the UK as people are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint.

Some reasons why someone may choose a woodland funeral:

  • It’s eco friendly
    Eco-conscious individuals may prefer to be laid to rest in a natural way that has minimal impact on the environment.

    A truly natural burial allows the body, and other matter, to return to the earth as quickly as possible, whereas in other cases it could take many months or years to break down.
  • It provides a picturesque setting for a funeral
    Those who love the great outdoors may be drawn to a woodland funeral.

    Natural burial grounds are typically beautiful areas of the countryside - a unique and peaceful setting to say a final goodbye to a loved one.
  • It’s cost-effective
    A woodland funeral doesn’t have to be as expensive as a traditional funeral (which is currently £4,184 on average in the UK[1]).

    Embalming isn’t necessary, eco-friendly coffins and shrouds can be a lot cheaper and the service itself could be organised by loved ones.

    Also, there isn’t the additional cost of memorial fees, maintenance fees, or fees for extending the burial plot lease (like with a traditional cemetery).
  • It’s flexible
    Busy crematoriums or cemeteries have strict time limits of 30 or 45 minutes per service. However, with a woodland funeral, you’re not restricted by time or even structure.

    Typically, you can spend as much time as you like at the graveside before your loved one is laid to rest. Following the burial, you can hold the wake at the graveside, take a reflective stroll through the woods and/or have a leisurely picnic.

Traditional British cemeteries are overcrowded

According to a report by the BBC, almost half of England’s cemeteries will run out of space by 2033[2].

In the City of London and in Greater London, a number of cemeteries have already filled to maximum capacity.

The local authority can’t afford to buy new land whilst maintaining the current cemeteries, so they have started to reuse old graves (as long as a burial hasn’t taken place there for 75 years).

Whilst the burial crisis is going on, it’s likely that more and more natural burial sites will be developed in the UK and woodland burials will become more popular as people want to avoid overcrowded city cemeteries.

What happens at a woodland funeral?

A woodland funeral has no set structure or protocol. Generally, they are tailored to suit the needs of the family (or the wishes of their loved one).


Before the funeral

You may visit the woodland burial site before the burial, which is recommended so that you can get a good feel for the area and learn about the facilities available.

A funeral director can help with the process of purchasing a suitable burial plot. After this, arrangements for the funeral can begin.


During the funeral

The coffin (pulled on a wheeled bier or carried by pallbearers) is moved through the woods followed by the congregation to the burial ground.

A funeral service may take place at the graveside before the burial. This can be religious or non-religious.

Some woodland burial sites have a ceremonial building you can use for a more traditional service.


After the funeral

You may hold a wake at a nearby venue, such as the local town hall or pub. Or, you may continue the outdoor theme with a wake at the woodland burial site.

They may have a yurt or gazebo you can use. If not, a simple stroll with family and friends through the woodland may suffice.

Please note: Social distancing rules still apply for all funerals and wakes in the UK. Please visit the government website for the most up-to-date information.

Woodland burial sites (how to choose one?)

When looking for the right woodland burial site, there are some key considerations.


The type

There are lots of different types of woodland and natural burial grounds, owned or managed by a number of organisations including independent businesses, non-profit charities and local authorities.

If you’re looking for woodland scenery in particular, then you can find a list of these sites on the Woodland Burial Trust website.


The location

Some woodland burial sites are very rural, whilst other sites are located close to an ordinary cemetery.

As mentioned, visiting the area beforehand will help you decide if it’s a suitable resting place for your loved one.


The facilities

Not all burial sites have an indoor ceremony room you can use before the burial.

With the weather being unpredictable in the UK and depending on the time of year the funeral is taking place, having a place where the ceremony can be held protected from the elements could be essential.

Although, there may be the option to hire a separate building, such as the local town hall, for the day.


The rules

Every site will have different rules regarding embalming, coffins, and grave markings, as well as what you can and can’t do whilst you’re there.

For example, some sites are more ‘natural’ than others - where embalming is not permitted at all and coffins must be made from biodegradable materials.

There may be specific rules about the type of memorial or grave marking you can have. Some sites allow a simple wooden or slate plaque placed on a nearby tree or on the ground.

Others will only allow a native tree or wildflowers to be planted. Flowers bought from a shop may be allowed as long as they are left on the ground without any plastic wrapping or ribbon.

Most of the time burial plots are marked out on a map so that family and friends are able to navigate their way there when visiting in the future.

There are 270 woodland and natural burial sites in the UK (and the number is growing).

The Natural Death Centre recommends choosing one that’s registered with The Association of Natural Burial Grounds, which monitors the sites and ensures they are following best practice.

How much does a woodland funeral cost?

The total cost of a woodland funeral depends on various factors, including which burial site you choose and where it’s located in the UK.

Burial plots and fees for interment (for the burial itself) vary significantly but generally cost from around £1,000.

As one example, Brocklands Woodland Burial site in North Yorkshire charges £480 for a single burial plot plus a £590 interment fee.

(Some burial sites can guarantee today’s pricing for a burial plot if you’re able to purchase in advance).

As with any type of burial funeral, there are additional costs to consider. How much you spend depends on what you decide to include:

  • Funeral director services - to help arrange and carry out the funeral. Fees can reach a few thousand pounds for a traditional funeral service
  • Minister or celebrant - they’ll charge a fee to lead the ceremony. In 2019, this cost was £164 on average
  • Eco-coffin or shroud - cardboard coffins and biodegradable shrouds tend to be the cheapest starting from just £100
  • Hearse and pallbearers - usually arranged by the funeral director and included in their fees
  • Natural memorial - the plaque, native tree or wildflowers to mark the grave (if permitted). There are low-cost options but prices can also go up to a few hundred pounds
  • Hiring of ceremonial building - there may be a supplementary fee for use of the facilities at the burial site
  • Venue and catering - if you wish to have a wake following the funeral, then you may need to consider costs for hiring a venue and catering service

Tips for a woodland funeral

Whilst saying a final farewell is a very difficult thing to do, a woodland funeral can be a special and memorable occasion for all the family.

Here are some tips if you think that a woodland funeral may be the right choice:

  • Visit the burial site before the funeral and become familiar with their rules
  • You could have a DIY woodland funeral and save money on funeral director fees. Some burial site owners and staff are more hands on than others and could help with planning a funeral
  • You could opt for an electric hearse instead of a traditional hearse
  • The coffin can be decorated with native flowers or with natural paints
  • You may wish to include children and pets, particularly if the service is taking place outdoors
  • Depending on the time of year, consider how the weather may affect your plans. Especially in the winter, you’ll probably want use of an indoor ceremony room

Funeral plans through Reassured

If you have specific funeral wishes and want to protect loved ones from the expense, then you may consider a prepaid funeral plan.

A funeral plan allows you to pay for your funeral services in advance and at today’s prices.

It protects loved ones from unexpected funeral costs and mitigates any confusion over your final wishes when the time comes.

To learn more, head to our prepaid funeral plans page or get in touch with a member of our brilliant team.

We’re an award-winning brokerage and our service is completely fee-free.

Sources:

[1] SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report, sunlife.co.uk/costofdying2021

[2] https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/915493.shtml

[3] https://www.sciencefocus.com/planet-earth/is-it-better-for-the-environment-to-be-buried-or-cremated/

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