Rise of the 'eco-funeral' leads to planning rows

Olivia Rudgard
The funerals have gained in popularity as other cemeteries become full  - Bloomberg

A rise in "eco-funerals" has sparked planning rows as local residents object to the sites being put near schools and areas of natural beauty. 

Data from insurance company SunLife shows that there has been an increase in the number of such funerals, from one in 14 in 2016 to one in 11 this year. 

The number of funeral directors who say they have access to a woodland burial site has increased from 60 per cent in 2014 to 77 per cent this year, though this is a fall from a high in 2015 of 90 per cent. 

The first woodland burial site was opened in 1993 in Carlisle, and there are now around 300 across the UK. Also called "natural" burial, it involves being placed in the ground with only a biodegradable shroud or coffin. Instead of a headstone a tree may be planted or a wooden plaque placed to mark the site. 

The report warned that increasing demand could be leading to a shortage of sites. 

"Though we do not know why availability has risen and then fallen again, it could show that the increasing popularity of woodland burials is putting pressure on the limited number of sites," it said. 

But some of the proposed sites have come up against protests by locals. In Great Glen, Leicestershire, residents opposed a Co-op scheme to install a woodland burial site and crematorium because of its proximity to a local school. 

However, other local residents backed the proposal, which was eventually allowed to go ahead. 

In a letter to the Leicester Mercury one anonymous writer said: "Nature, wildlife and the environment are included in a thoughtful and sensitive way in the plans.

"It seems to me this is nimbyism of the worst kind."

Another plan for a woodland burial site in Aylmerton, Norfolk, was turned down in 2015 after the planning inspectorate said it would be inconsistent with the site's position within an area of outstanding natural beauty and did not have good enough road access.

Residents had earlier protested the proposals in a demonstration led by a man dressed as an undertaker and carrying a placard which read "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty R.I.P," the Eastern Daily Press reported. 

The SunLife survey of 1,524 respondents and 100 funeral directors also found that just one in ten funerals is now religious and mourners are increasingly opting for secular songs or anthems such as Another One Bites the Dust by Queen and Happy by Pharrell Williams. 

The overall cost of dying including the funeral, wake and lawyers' fees, rose from £8,802 in 2016 to £8,905 this year. 

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