what happens at a woodland burial - bluebells in bloom in a forest

What Happens at a Woodland Burial?

At Harold Wood Funeral Services, our team is dedicated to helping people create funerals which fit their beliefs, preferences and personalities, and care for the emotional needs of all involved. One option that is gaining in popularity is woodland burials; But while many people have heard of a woodland burial, there can still be some confusion about what this kind of ceremony involves. In this article, we explain what happens at a woodland burial, and why they are increasing in popularity. 

Human beings have always felt a profound connection to the natural world. Spending time in green spaces has been proven to contribute to better health and higher psychological wellbeing, and scientists have theorised that our sense of attachment to nature is something innate. It is therefore no surprise that people wish to care for the environment around them, and be laid to rest surrounded by the beauty of trees and meadows. 

In the UK, the popularity of woodland burials – which offer an eco-friendly and serene farewell – has grown over the last decade, mirroring the broader trend towards sustainable death care practices. There are now over 270 natural burial sites in the country, several of which can be found in Essex.

Despite our proximity to the bustle of London, Essex is a county that is famous for its tranquil countryside, and these burial sites help to conserve the natural landscape. What’s more, they provide a home for native flora and fauna that are so often under severe pressure elsewhere. Whether an individual has a passion for birds, animals and insects, loves spending time in nature or is dedicated to preserving the environment and fighting climate change, a woodland burial can resonate deeply. 

What you can expect from a woodland burial

Whether you would like to request a woodland burial for your own goodbye, are planning one for someone else, or are simply curious, you may want to understand more about what you can expect. 

At its heart, a woodland or “natural” burial is a means of laying a person to rest in the least environmentally disruptive way possible. In line with this aim, the factors that make a woodland burial different to a traditional funeral are:

  • A woodland or natural burial will take place in a biodiverse, unspoilt area that will either be a designated green space or part of a wider cemetery. It is in these tranquil surroundings that a person’s body or cremated ashes will be laid to rest. 
  • When laying someone to rest in a woodland or natural burial site, the body is typically prepared without embalming chemicals. This is to ensure that the chemicals used during the embalming process aren’t introduced to the soil. 
  • Most woodland burial sites will stipulate that a person’s remains be placed in a biodegradable coffin, urn or shroud, so the materials break down naturally and retain the unspoilt earth across the site. Biodegradable coffins, which include options such as wicker or cardboard, will also generally have a smaller carbon footprint in their creation than solid wood or metal alternatives. 
  • Another feature of woodland burials is that they don’t tend to include a headstone. To reduce the impact on the natural landscape, the burial sites will instead be marked by a tree or flowers in a living memorial, or a simple wooden plaque. For this reason, those who manage natural burial sites will keep careful maps, so relatives can more easily visit the area where their loved ones are buried. In other circumstances, the entire woodland is considered a memorial to the person who has passed. 

How much does a woodland burial cost?

Depending on where you live in the UK and which natural burial site you choose, a woodland burial plot can cost anything from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Alongside this, you may need to pay for someone to dig the burial site and to conduct the ceremony. This means the cost of a woodland burial is very much on a case-by-case basis, although eco-friendly coffins and memorials tend to far more affordable than their traditional alternatives. 

What about the ceremony?

For the most part, woodland burial sites allow for a huge amount of flexibility when it comes to the service, with few or no stipulations in terms of religious rites. As long as the ceremony adheres to the guidelines of the site (which will revolve around sustainability and legalities), you will have a great deal of freedom to organise a bespoke ceremony that suits your preferences and budget. 

Woodland burials in Essex offer a meaningful and sustainable farewell, deeply aligned with the region’s picturesque landscapes and the environmental values of its population. They provide a peaceful final resting place that nurtures the local ecosystem, reflecting a broader cultural shift towards embracing nature in life and in death.

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