The depths they go to

In Palmerston, New Zealand, permission to inter ashes in a new natural burial ground has been put on hold. The council wants a period of consultation in order to arrive at a “a better understanding of what sort of natural burial ground people want” in the light of the assertion by a councillor that “cremation is one of the most unsustainable practices you could have.”

Well, well, what a pertinent question! What sort of natural burial ground do people want? What price consensus on that — anywhere? You can tell New Zealand is new to all this. 

In one important respect, the regulations for this NZ NBG are going to be a lot more enlightened than we see at almost every NBG in the UK. They’re going to change the bylaw requiring six-feet-under burial and require, instead, burial at a max of 1 metre, with a covering of 40cms (ie, around 15 inches). This is to ensure rapid, vibrant, aerobic decomposition. 

Way to go, good people. But don’t stop there. 

Yes, you can do even better. Turn your minds also to re-use of graves. What do you say to 30 years?

A burial ground that’s ever-active, 100% financially sustainable — there’s the goal of natural burial. 

Story in the Manawatu Standard here

Dig it shallow. They don’t.

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.

Jolly rottin

On the North Island of New Zealand, Whangarei District Council has been researching natural burial for the last three years. Three years? Yes, they want to do it as it should be done. Cemetery manager Helen Cairns says: 

“When we do get natural burial – if we get natural burial – we want to make sure that we do it right and in the specific way people want it. I’m more than happy to talk the subject over with people.”

From an impossibly badly written article in the Northern Advocate we learn that Whangerei are planning to bury at 3 feet, allowing for vibrant, aerobic decomposition and environmentally useful human compost.

If only natural buriers would make a virtue of that in the UK. When people make a whole-body donation to the Earth it is only right that best use be made of that body. 

Full story here