Bury Me in the Back Garden – how many times have you heard someone joke about what they want to happen to their remains?
What a hot topic Garden Burial has become since the MP for South Shields recently declared in the Commons that funeral poverty was forcing people to bury their loved ones in the back garden!
Well, yes and no. Firstly, yes, it will save you cemetery fees but no, generally people with the luxury of a privately owned garden are not usually the ones in funeral poverty.
There are a few but this does not mean that a private land burial is necessarily a good idea. The landed gentry have been doing it for generations and calls to our helpline are generally from farmers, small holders, woodland owners and those with generous gardens.
There are cases of individuals being buried in smaller gardens but as we will read below these are perhaps more prone to be exhumed by future owners.
Owning the freehold of the land with no outstanding mortgage is key.
Being high and dry, where the digging of a grave is not going to breach the water table is a good start.
The Environment Agency have issued guidelines regarding distances from running or standing water and obviously a body should not be buried anywhere near a spring or borehole used for drinking water.
As long as the death is registered in the normal way and the registrar informed of the location of the burial within 96 hours, using the slip at the bottom of the ‘green form’, you essentially do not need permission from anyone to carry out a home burial.
You only need planning permission for a garden burial if you are changing the use of the land, i.e; turn it into a cemetery by either burying lots of people or changing the use of the land by erecting large monuments or fencing it off. So a garden must stay a garden and a paddock a paddock etc.
Every week I send out ‘how to dig a grave’ PDF’s and sample burial registers to those undertaking home or private land burials (you need to leave a detailed record of the grave and its occupant with the deeds). I always express caution on the subject, especially when the caller tells me that it is a garden burial in an urban area. I recently had a call from one gentleman from a Birmingham back-to-back with only a yard; he was determined!
So, on the one hand you have the likes of Kirstie Allsop burying her mother on her estate and then the case of Mr and Mrs X whose bodies were exhumed by professional exhumation specialist at Rowland Brothers and re interred in the local cemetery once their house was sold. Was this what they really wanted to happen or had their dream of lying undisturbed in their beloved garden been ill conceived, poorly planned and inadequately protected?
There is also a smattering of urban myth and assumption made about private land burial. The most common is that you will devalue the property. True, you may be restricting the number of prospective buyers but if your land is beautiful and the grave is tucked away somewhere, the purchaser might well appreciate and respect your desire to remain there and wish to join you when their time comes.
One estate agent advised a widow that, by law, she must exhume her husband from their 100 acre estate before it could be put on the market. She duly obeyed only to discover that this was his presumption and the whole episode and subsequent mental trauma avoidable.
It is the duty of a vendor to disclose the presence of a grave. I heard of one case where the farmer’s wife sold up and did not disclose the presence of his grave, nor attach anything to the deeds. The new owner only became aware of the burial when at the local pub he was asked if he minded having farmer X looking over the family from the top field? They took the wife to court, got permission to exhume and sued her for the costs.
Exhumation from non consecrated land. (if consecrated a whole other raft of church laws apply).
You have to apply to the Ministry Of Justice for a licence. There is no fee applicable but you have to employ a professional exhumation specialist and this can be pricey. Interestingly if you employ the same firm to re-inter the remains elsewhere, it is classed as a funeral and you avoid VAT charges.
I have just read back over what I have written and it makes for pretty gloomy reading. To counter this I would say that the vast majority of home burials are beautiful and the families are very happy with the choice they made. They cause no trouble and are, on the whole I hear, very quiet residents.
by Rosie Inman-Cook
This article was orginally published in More to Death, the official magazine to The Natural Death Centre. www.naturaldeath.org.uk