What is natural burial?

The concept of natural or green burial was devised by Ken West in the 1980s, who worked as a cemetery manager in the city of Carlisle. He defined a new approach to cemetery management that had ecological concerns at its core. West explained his rationale in an article published by The Ecologist in 2019. 

There now are more than 270 green burial sites in operation. A major study completed at the University of Sheffield has contributed substantially to an understanding of the ownership and management of green burial sites (see further reading below). 

‘Green burial’ tends to lack exact definition, but in popular understanding indicates land in which burial takes place within natural meadow and trees may be planted on or close to the grave. In practice, approaches vary.

Green, woodland or natural burial is provided by businesses and charitable trusts. Green commemorative options are also available in many local authority cemeteries. 

The provision of green burial outside the statutory sector is largely unregulated. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice produced guidance on the management of green burial sites.

The Natural Death Centre lists green burial sites in the UK, and gives further information on the green burial movement.

Further reading: 

West, K. (2010) A Guide to Natural Burial, London: Shaw and Sons.

Clayden, A., Green, T., Hockey, J. and Powell, M. (2015) Natural Burial: Landscape, Practice and Experience, Abingdon: Routledge.

Further references will be found in the main site bibliography (search for ‘Natural burial’).