Dig it shallow. They don’t.

Charles Cowling


Filming the Good Funeral Awards with Sharp Jack Media, the production company making the documentary for Sky, entailed going all over the country to shoot people in action and get their backstories. It was fun. Perhaps the most fun was watching the crew on ‘just another job’ become emotionally enmeshed by the loveliness of the people they met. It was a life-changing process for them.

It was also exhausting and, from time to time, nailbiting.

Perhaps the nailbitingest moment came as they filmed a funeral in Devon followed by burial in Bidwell Woodland Burial Ground, a lovely place where you have to tote the coffin a good way to the grave. It’s hard work just trudging after it.

All went well at the outset. The funeral was in a village hall and it reduced one of the crew to tears even though it wasn’t an especially sad funeral because it was for a very old man who had led an incredibly rich and generous life. We set out for the burial ground in bright sunshine. It was a timeless sight.

The nailbiting bit came after the coffin had been lowered and it became evident that there was just a little over a foot between the top of the coffin and the surface. Local authority rules (not the law) prescribe a minimum of 2’ 6”, or 2’ where soil conditions allow. I had to have urgent discussions to determine whether it was wise, politic and in everyone’s best interests to film this. There could be protests and all sorts from them as knows best.

All agreed that it should be filmed. The owner of the burial ground, the richly characterful, serenely resolute and intelligent Andrew Lithgow, knows his law and believes that human burial must make good environmental sense. You don’t get the customary dark, cold, inert six feet under at Bidwell, you go back to nature usefully.

What about foxes, badgers, all sorts of foragers digging up the body? That’s what they all say happens, everybody says it. What do you do about that?

They don’t. As Andrew has it, why in heaven’s name would they want to dig up dead bodies? They’ve far better, fresher things to eat.

Another graveyard myth. So good to have that one knocked on the head. Burial depth in natural burial grounds has been, let’s confess it, a bit of an obsession here at the GFG. We are at rest now, enjoying our favourite song.



0 0 votes
Article Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

I am prey to anxiety in all things, Ru. Some years ago I put it to the manager of one of those big nbg’s funded by all sorts of big money that he was practising a deception on the public by describing his activity as natural burial. All very well festooning your brosher with acres of bluebells, but if your guests are 6 feet down and therefore aren’t actually pushing them up you’re selling, how shall I word this, a daydream. I might have expressed myself more euphemistically and shouldn’t have been entirely surprised when he lost his temper. A… Read more »

Ru Callender
9 years ago

I have to say Charles, we were surprised at your nervous reaction. It didn’t cross any of our minds that this might be controversial. As you say, Andrew knows his burial law, and the natural world, and he has been burying people at that depth for the past twelve years. I think the depth between coffin and the surface is probably nearer two foot than one, but his point is clear. This is what natural burial means. I would love to know what depth some of the larger concerns bury at. It is a clear way to distinguish real practitioners… Read more »