Natural Burial – an environmentally friendly funeral

Clandon Wood Nature Reserve and Natural Burial Ground

Clandon Wood Nature Reserve and Natural Burial Ground

I first went to Clandon Wood Nature Reserve and Natural Burial Ground years ago – when it first opened. They had an open day inviting people  to experience another way to consider what happens when you die – to think, perhaps slightly out of the box, about what you might want for your own funeral.  A seed was sown in my head at that time – there is another way. Possibly a more environmentally responsible way, to deal with the inevitable: the disposal of my body.

Time has moved on and now, in these days of obvious global warming, perhaps it is even more important than ever to consider the impact on the environment of how our bodies end their days on this earth.

So, having trained as a celebrant to conduct weddings and funerals, I went along to Clandon Wood Nature Reserve and Natural Burial Ground. Nestling between the villages of East and West Clandon, and spent some time talking to Simon Ferrar the founder,  whose vision for this site was planted after attending his own aunt’s funeral many years before.  He came away feeling there must be another way.

A middle-aged man with an open face, bright eyes and a cheerful smile, Simon, took me on a tour of the site. I hopped onto the back of the golf buggy and we headed off across the wild meadowland, which on this autumn day was not perhaps at its best. But as with all things in nature, no matter what the time of year, there is always plenty to see.


Groundsmen who are passionate about the environment manage the land

Simon, a former builder, explained to me how, after a number of years searching for some land, this parcel came up for sale and he just knew it was the one. The 31 acres are managed carefully by grounds men who are passionate about the environment.  There are separate areas across the land consisting of wildflower meadows, native trees, wetland, lakes and new woodland areas.

The place has a magical feel and as we made our way past some pollarded trees near the larger of two ponds, a clutch of brightly coloured pheasants could be seen scratching around in the tall grass.  We mused about how they had sought refuge at the Nature Reserve in order to avoid the shooting season!

Future planting of coppice species of hazel and chestnut will ensure an increase in woodland biodiversity. Which in turn, with the changing of the seasons, provides good food sources for butterflies and insects. These of course create a food chain for those further up, namely the birds, owls and mammals that also frequent the space. There is a natural balance, a yin and yang where everything is working together with nature, not against it.

As we continued our tour, Simon pointed out areas used for the interment of ashes, another service that Clandon Wood offers. There has been an increase in demand for this service in more recent years and there are specific areas set aside for the purpose. The ashes are not scattered but in a rather more considered way, buried in biodegradable urns so as not to upset the balance of the environment.


Natural ways to manage the land

Each part of the land is naturally and carefully considered – for example, the grass is mown once a year and made into hay for horses. Beautiful Suffolk sheep frolic about grazing the land over autumn and winter, bringing further benefits to biodiversity, resulting in an increase in the presence of birds, insects and pollinators.

As we continued wending our way around this little piece of ‘heaven’, Simon brought my attention to the ‘bug hotel’. Initially created in the early days to encourage insects to settle, he told me how the hotel had only been open a few days when a robin took up residence there instead! How clever Mr Robin was, to make his nest within the confines of his very own ‘fast food’ joint!


Reflective, peaceful spaces

There are also areas set aside for people to sit and reflect on their friends and family who may have already passed – beautiful contemplative spaces dotted around, where birds can be seen and heard flying past and nesting in the trees. The large lake, now well established, contains a hive of biodiversity, with the sound of frogs more recently being heard and migrating birds stopping en route to warmer climes, with coots and other waterfowl having also made their homes here.

As the sky began to darken and rain to gently fall, we stopped to look at some graves. No headstones adorn these places, no statues mark the spot, just a simple wooden or stone plaque but more often than not, nothing. Nothing but the land, just as it was intended to be, as Mother Nature would have it. The most natural thing in the world – to give back to the earth – to nourish the soil. Here, the deceased are buried only 3’ 6’’ under, not 6 feet or more as with a conventional burial. The shallower grave helps with the decomposition of the body, allowing a quicker transition back to the earth.

I stopped and considered this place – the autumn leaves changing in all their different hues, decorating the space with vibrant colours, a celebration of the short lives that they have just lived this past year! Soon, they will have fallen to the ground to once more be absorbed into the earth – offering sustenance back to the land to be renewed again in the spring, and so the circle of life continues.

As the rain became relentless, we moved on again, crisscrossing the land, – whilst the black faces of the Suffolk sheep bleat and move out of our way as they watch us pass. We moved under beech, hornbeam, lime and oak trees, all native species to this land and growing symbiotically with everything around it.


A natural burial place to mourn and celebrate

Simon has created a place to mourn and celebrate which sits naturally within the land.  A dual-purpose, sustainable space, on the one hand a burial site and on the other a nature reserve each purpose complimenting the other perfectly. Allowing mourners to once again connect with the earth and to know that their loved ones will have gone some way to preserving the natural beauty of this place for thousands of years to come.

Even the glass pavilion which gives panoramic views across the nature reserve, seems somehow to disappear into the landscape. It is as if Simon’s presence here has been embraced by the land as a thank you for all his efforts to leave no trace.

When thinking of my own funeral, I cannot think of many places that meet both my need to be at one with nature and also to preserve the beauty in nature that we still have left on this earth. We can try so hard in life to limit the effect we have on our planet, so it seems a shame not to continue this after our deaths.

If you have been impacted by this article or are interested in a greener natural burial, please get in touch with me to discuss things further

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