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What are Natural Burials and Green Funerals?

‘Natural burial is a term used to describe the burial of human remains where the burial area creates habitat for wildlife or preserves existing habitat (woodland, species rich meadows, orchards, aquatic, sustainably managed farmland etc.) which are rich in flora and fauna.

Where a funeral precedes such burial, it would seek to minimise environmental impact by prohibiting embalming and, where a coffin is used, ensuring that this be made of natural, biodegradable materials.’

‘A Guide to Natural Burial’  – written by Ken West MBE 


The essence of a green funeral is age-old elemental simplicity.

It rejects the so-called traditional funeral with its stuffy, Victorian, urban look and all the associated trappings.

It prefers an unspoilt landscape to that of a regimented conventional cemetery.

If it’s a look you like, natural burial is as lovely as it gets.

It’s also by far the most environmentally sound choice for a funeral.


A green funeral:


rejects cremation


opts for burial in a site serving a conservation purpose


creates an environment which is not visually definable as a burial ground


reviles embalming


requires a coffin or shroud locally made from natural, sustainable materials


forbids demarcation of the grave


forbids marking or personalising of the grave with any sort of permanent memorial


forbids tending or gardening of the grave




Ultimately, it is not the grave that commemorates the life lived, it is the entire site.


Losing the plot

Some burial grounds will let you mark the grave with a temporary marker, usually a wooden one. Others will let you mark the grave with a small, simply-worded stone marker laid flat. Some will allow nothing at all.


If you are considering natural burial you need to think very hard about this aspect.


Some people find it very difficult to lose sight of exactly where a person is buried and feel the need for a marker of some kind. Others may be content to know that the grave is blending back into the landscape just as intended.


(*All burial grounds should keep accurate records to identify the exact location of each grave, so it won’t be the case that the plot is actually lost)

Some are more beautiful than others

Those natural burial grounds which permit a certain amount of gardening of the grave find it impossible to hold the line.


Graves start to get cluttered with all sorts of memorial items: plaster figures, wind chimes, teddy bears, artificial flowers.


You find bedecked graves next to unkempt graves – graves as nature intended. The burial ground begins to look like a shanty town of the dead.


This is not what natural burial is meant to be.


The best look is probably the there’s-nobody-here look.


Choose carefully. If you can, visit sites yourself before deciding. You’ll know quickly if this is the right place for your person.


Green products

You can make any funeral more green with one of a variety of ethically sourced coffins  – which are just as attractive to people who simply like the look of them.


Have a look at the coffin page.


You may prefer a lovely leaf shroud from Bellacouche.


If you like to source your goods locally, and entertain intuitive misgivings about willow coffins from Poland or bamboo from China, you may be relieved to find that their carbon footprint is often no greater than that some of our homegrown ones.


Find out more

Assess the environmental impact of your funeral using Ken West’s really useful score sheet: How green is my funeral?.

The Natural Death Centre was created to champion the UK’s back-to-nature burial movement. For more information, check out their website.

For a comprehensive list of all UK sites offering natural burial, the ICCM Portal has a useful map that is constantly updated as new sites open here.

There’s another little info website here.

A very much fuller and more detailed guide to creating a green funeral appears in the Good Funeral Guide. Order your copy here.


If you’re interested in finding out more while supporting us in our work, why not consider joining the Good Funeral Guild?

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And if you’d like to support us while joining a community of like-minded people, why not consider joining the Good Funeral Guild?