Hannah Rumble 2010

New scenes for the dead: Natural burial sites and their distinguishing sovereignty

This paper is concerned with identifying if there are distinctions between natural burial sites and other more familiar, ‘traditional’ burial places using the case study woodland burial ground of my doctoral research. This particular site is consecrated and affiliated to the Church of England. The provider’s aim is to establish a deciduous native woodland, hence why the site is referred to as a ‘woodland’ burial ground. On the one hand the legal aspects of this provision make the site similar to a churchyard, whilst functionally and aesthetically, it shares much in common with other burial places: so what is distinctive about this provision? I will argue that generally what sets natural burial sites apart from other places of interment for the dead is that these places are therapeutic landscapes in which the aesthetic veneer of the natural landscape, together with often diminished topographic markers to the presence of the dead below ground, emphasises life and continuity and also lessens visitors inhibitions so that some visiting behaviour incorporates activities not normally associated with a cemetery or churchyard. I shall also point to the fact that these therapeutic landscapes for the grieving have prompted some criticism that natural burial grounds embody a denial of death precisely because the natural world is often given sovereign status in these places. Ultimately, this is what sets natural burial grounds apart from other places for the dead; for these new scenes no longer guarantee that the dead will have sovereign status in the landscape.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract