Burials in Private Land

Extracted from 'The Charter For the Bereaved'

(1) Information

Although burial principally occurs in purpose designed cemeteries and churchyards, there are some exceptions. Families with large estates have routinely built a mausoleum or similar building on their land, for the burial of family members. Some individuals have been buried in farmland and others in gardens, without this becoming generally known. More recently, this form of burial has obtained media coverage and numbers have significantly increased. Much of this has been due to the Natural Death Centre, a charity formed to support a less formalised routine for funerals, as well as a better approach to death generally. They have issued a handbook and further publication called “Green Burial”, which explain how to arrange these burials within legal and planning requirements.

There are several advantages of this form of burial. It allows you to organise a very personal funeral, in which you maintain total control. You are able to reduce costs significantly by avoiding the use of a funeral director, by making your own coffin or dispensing with this altogether, and not having to purchase a grave in a cemetery. It is essential that you obtain permission to complete a burial, where you are not the landowner of the ground involved. You are also advised to notify any individual or mortgage company that has an interest in the property. Access to the grave may be denied or restricted by change of ownership.

The difficulties are also significant, although these vary according to the location. Most locations fall into two categories, on farmland and in a garden.

(a) Farmland

These locations are rarely overlooked and will not offend neighbours or the public at large. The grave site should be on land with a deep water table and be sufficient distance from watercourses so as not to pose a pollution threat. Electrical or other services must be avoided. A limited number of burials over a period of time may not constitute a “change of use” and no planning approval is thereby necessary. Information submitted by the Natural Death Centre states “Recent local authority Certificates of Lawfulness have decided that planning permission is not required for the non-commercial burial on private land of a limited number of family, friends or those living in the house. These decisions have not been tested in the courts. The Department of the Environment are more cautious, and accept merely that planning permission is not required for the burial of one or two persons in back gardens”.

Exceeding a “limited” number of burials may require planning approval for use as a cemetery or for “mixed use” if farming is also to continue.

Safe grave excavation would be a further consideration, as well as leaving sufficient depth of soil (three foot) over the body. If it is intended to fence or mark the grave(s) with a memorial, planning permission may be required. In effect, a single burial in a farm situation can proceed without an approach to, or the approval of, any council or other official organisation.

(b) Garden

The situation in a garden is complicated by the proximately of neighbours. They may oppose a burial nearby and may be offended by the sight of a coffin or body. Although these may be not pose legal objections, it may not be conducive to good relationships. Otherwise, the aspects outlined under farm burials above the broadly similar. The particular difficulty in these locations is the reduction of the property value due to the presence of a grave. Although figures of 20% are mentioned, this has yet to be proven. Undoubtedly, a significant fall will occur although the fact that many buyers would not even consider the purchase at all seems more relevant.

Two major concerns influence this choice of burial. Firstly, the body could be exhumed by any new property purchaser, and re-buried in a cemetery. This reason for obtaining an exhumation licence has yet to be tested, but would seem feasible. There are legal means (restrictive covenant) by which you can ensure the grave remains untouched, but this will involve costs and other uncertainties. Secondly, details of the burial will not be officially recorded as they would be in a cemetery. Nonetheless, it appears that there is a statutory requirement for the landowner to maintain a register of burials. This can be in the form of a sheet of paper or notebook, preferably with a plan to show the location. These should be kept somewhere accessible in case the grave is disturbed by building or excavation works at some stage in the future.

A certificate for burial issued by a Coroner or Registrar or Births and Deaths will have to be obtained. The detachable section of this is to be completed and returned to the Registrar by the person arranging burial. It is important to note that, as explained above, the details of the burial; including the burial location, are not recorded by the Registrar. The Registrar is appointed to record population data and is not able to record the place of burial.

Depending upon the circumstances, you may find it difficult to obtain a funeral director to help you with this type of burial. You can of course do the funeral without a funeral director.

(2) Charter Rights

(a) It is your right to receive factual information on burial in private land from your Charter member.

(3) Charter Targets

(a) Charter members are encouraged to provide a green or natural burial option as an alternative to burial in private land.