Garden Burial

This article on Garden Burial is from

It is possible to bury a loved one in your garden?

The law is contained in the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880. A person who knows the circumstances of the death and has a lawful certificate of the cause of death must first register a death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

It is then necessary to obtain consent from the local authority to enable the burial to take place. A body comes within the definition of "clinical waste" and as such cannot be disposed of except under the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Environment Protection Act 1990. A licensed operator is usually needed but a local authority may waive the requirement in special circumstances. Remember it is a criminal offence to dispose of "controlled waste" otherwise than in accordance with the Acts. Before you consider such a burial stop and THINK what you would do if you ever decided to move?


These can be freely scattered in the garden or buried in a container eg.under a favourite tree.


So long as they are not too near a highway or over a certain height, planning permission is not needed to put up a headstone in a garden.


In general terms a pet owner can bury his pet in the garden of the domestic property where the pet lived so long as it is not within the definition of hazardous waste. If in doubt enquire of the local authority.

Green/Garden Burial 

This article is is taken from the excellent book "Green Burial" by John Bradfield, which covered the law and practice relating to burial on private land. This book is now out of print, with no plans for a further edition. Its main findings concerning the law and recommendations on private land burial are incorporated in The Natural Death Handbook.

Although this is an interesting and fascinating article, some of the personal opinions expressed in it are a little dated now, therefore we highly recommend that you also read article 3 which follows on from this one.

As soon as you mention burial outside of a cemetery, a great wave of learned opinion will strike you, coming from Auntie Flo, Government departments and everyone in between. It is opinion that has the majority of the country earnestly believing that burial outside of consecrated ground is illegal, and opinion that makes one council actively help its residents if they want burial outside of a cemetery whilst another attempts to obstruct it.

Planning law surrounding burial is vague and it is individuals' interpretation of these laws that causes confusion. However, the practicalities of arranging a burial are very simple.

I confirm to you that planning permission is not required for the burial of one or two persons....While planning permission is not required, [it is] strongly advised to consult [the] local authority to ensure [the grave] would polluting the water table. You would also be advised to append a plan of where the body is to the deeds of your property.
(Letter to Natural Death Centre from Department of Environment 12.5.94) Note the word advised.

You do not need planning permission. Neither do you need to contact the Environmental Health Department. All that you need is permission from the land owner (yourself if you own your garden). The Council will have to get permission from the Home Office to exhume you, if they feel strongly about your choice of burial site. (Which they are unlikely to get). Consulting the local authority about the water table is not good idea, since this will set alarm bells off all over the Town Hall and you will be interfered with. In fact, the pollution of the water table is very unlikely from one or two bodies.

Dead bodies will not cause problems once they are buried since the earth acts as a deodorizer and cleaning agent. However, if you are particularly concerned about this, contact the Rivers Authority for advice. They suggest, for instance,that burial should not take place within 10 meters of any standing or running water.

Infectious disease shouldn't cause you a problem either, unless you die of anthrax, hemorrhagic fever, cholera, plague (which one is not made clear), relapsing fever, smallpox or typhus. Even if you were to die of one of these bizarre illnesses, your family could take you home from hospital as long as they were going to bury or cremate you immediately.

Please note that AIDS is not a notifiable disease and creates no problem in burial.

The regulations about depth of graves is either specific or nonexistent. In some old towns the following may apply:

No coffin shall be buried in any grave without less than 30 inches of soil between the surface of [the ground] and the upper side of the coffin. (Section 103 Burial Act 1847 chapter 34)

That's less than 3 feet. However, its probably best to dig a 4 foot hole, since this will allow about 3 feet between the upper surface of the body. This assumes that you will not be using a coffin. The ground surface. "6 feet under" is a colloquialism. In ordinary cemeteries, a body may be given a 6 foot deep grave, but another body will be placed on top of it in the future.

You need to be practical when deciding where you want your grave. Sandy soils are dangerous to dig in to any depth, and rock will obviously limit how far down you can dig.

If you are digging a grave yourself, you need to be careful and have help. If you are fit and enthusiastic, it should take about three hours work to dig a four foot deep grave. Try and shore up the first two feet of the grave so that it is supported when the mourners stand around it, and work steadily so that you don't strain yourself. You might want to take a bucket to stand on so that you can get out of the grave at the end of a tiring day!

You will also need to make careful measurements of the body and any receptacle it will be in. To be absolutely certain that these measurements are correct, it's sensible to measure the height and width of the body with doweling rod, cutting the rod to the right size and dangling these rods on string right down into the grave. The last thing you want is a grave that is too short or narrow.

You are not obliged to use a coffin. Even "green coffins" require energy to be used in their construction and transportation, and some use a type of PVC that gives off Dioxins. The body can be dressed or naked. It can be wound in a sheet or put in a body bag. To lower it into the earth, you will need at least two long rope lengths, probably more, so that it can be carefully rested at the bottom of the grave. And the grave needs to be covered with a board to prevent people falling in. It does not need to be filled in immediately. Some of us might like to spend a little time with the body before it is covered with earth.

You need to make a register for the grave. This means that you will need a piece of paper with the name, address, date of birth, age, date and place of burial and the name of the "minister". A drawing also needs to to be kept with the register, showing the exact location of the grave. You need to keep these papers safe so that there will be no fear of your grave being disturbed by accident.

Because choice is possible within the law, we have the opportunity to bury ourselves where we want and be certain that the land around us cannot be tampered with. The implications for conservation are enormous! And although it's tempting to consult with officials, there really is no need.

We need to be very aware that our culture is the only thing standing between us and a burial within any part of the Land that we like. Dead bodies are not evil receptacles of disease. They do not corrupt the land or water. (How many dead sheep have you seen in lakes, streams and reservoirs?) Soil and the creatures in the soil and in the body itself will break it down safely and cleanly.

I would suggest that wherever possible, we do not bring officialdom into our plans, even on a matter of principal, since their knowledge of the law is generally appalling and their actions based on their own fears and from living in a culture which has turned its back on anything to do with death. Rather, we should take advantage of the law as it stands, and think about conservation and feeding of the land.

For those of us who are not concerned about being buried with others of whatever faith, burial out in the open land is an achievable and worthwhile aim."

Garden Burial - Article 3

This is taken from a local council information leaflet titled "Can I be buried in my back garden"?

The information contained within this leaflet is intended as a brief guide to planning a burial in private land and the legal and environmental issues that should be taken into account.

The idea of a burial taking place in a place other than a cemetery or churchyard can for some, seem a little unsettling. Indeed, many people believe that burial in private land that has not specifically been set aside for burial is illegal. This is not the case; as long as the permission of the person who owns the land where the burial is to take place is obtained and legal requirements regarding the location and depth of the grave are met, there is no reason why burial in a garden or other privately owned land should not take place.

A great deal of information on this topic can be found via the Internet, but it is wise to remember that some of the information might be an opinion, belief or interpretation of the author, rather than a statement of fact.

Several information sources advise against contacting your local Council or other 'official organisations', which will try to deter you from arranging a burial in private land. This particular view is now somewhat outdated and you will tend to find that Bereavement Services professionals and other organisations are committed to promoting freedom of choice and assisting families to meet any legal requirements, rather than using the law obstruct you. You should also consider the possibility, however unlikely, that if burial arrangements did not meet the requirements of regulations and legislation that it could be costly and distressing to rectify any breaches.

Do I need planning permission?

Generally, planning permission is not required providing the land is to be used for one or two burials. If more burials are planned, it would be wise to seek the advice of your local planning authority. If you intend to place a memorial upon the grave, you should also check with your planning authority, as planning permission will be needed if the memorial is over a certain height or near to a public highway.
You do, however, need to obtain the permission of the person who owns the land; it would be wise to get this permission in writing, even if you own the land yourself, so that a copy can be kept with other documentation relating to the burial.

Location of the grave

In addition to any planning issues that might arise from the placement of a memorial, the proximity to water sources and the depth of soil that is available should also be taken into account. Burials should not take place within:

  • 50 metres (164 feet) of any well, borehole or spring that supplies water for any use
  • 30 metres (98 feet) of any other spring, running water or standing water
  • 10 metres (33 feet) of any 'dry' ditch or field drain

The grave should not contain any standing water when it is first excavated, and there should be at least 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) of subsoil beneath the base of the grave (please also see the guide to grave depth below)

Preparing the grave

The type of soil present can greatly affect the preparation of the grave; heavy clay soils will require much greater effort to excavate than finer, richer soils. If very sandy soil is present, then burials are not recommended, as the risk of it collapsing and therefore the risk.of injury is high.
Because", by law, the top of the coffin (or body if no coffin is used) must be at least 3 feet (around 1 metre) below the level of the surrounding ground, the depth of excavation for a single burial should be 4 feet 6 inches (1 metre 37 centimetres). If the grave is to be prepared to accommodate more than one burial, the depth should be adjusted as follows:

  • 2 burials: 6 feet (1 metre 83 centimetres)
  • 3 burials: 7 feet (2 metres 13 centimetres)

These depths take into account the requirement that there must be at least 6 inches (15 centimetres) of soil between coffins (or bodies) buried one on top of the other; please also see the.'backfilling' section below.
The grave should be suitably shored with strong, knot free timber to prevent collapse when excavating or as mourners gather around it and, once excavated, it should be covered with a boards to prevent anyone falling into it.

The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management Code of Safe Working Practice for Cemeteries recommends grave shoring as follows:

Grave Shoring and Boarding

diagram of how to shore and board a grave during excavation

The coffin (or body, it no coffin is to be used) should be measured accurately to ensure that the grave is excavated to the correct dimensions; two to three inches (5-7 centimetres) should be added to these dimensions to ensure that the coffin (or body) can be lowered into the grave without the risk of it catching against the sides of the excavated grave. The dimensions should also be adjusted to take into account the thickness of the shoring that is to be used to support the excavation. It is also a good idea to cut lengths of dowel to the required dimensions; these can prove to be more manageable than a tape measure when excavating a grave and also reduces the likelihood of making any errors when measuring the excavation.

The equipment needed to excavate a grave is generally readily available from DIY stores or tool-hire shops, but the excavation will require careful planning and preparation. In some areas, a mobile grave-digging service is offered by the Cemeteries Team; for further information about this service, contact the Bereavement Services Section of your local council.

The Committal

The committal is the part of the funeral where the coffin (or body) is lowered into the grave. You can choose from a wide range of traditional or more environmentally friendly coffins, or you may choose to use a burial shroud or wrap the deceased in a simple burial sheet. In the case of a burial sheet and some shrouds, it may be necessary to place a board under the deceased to support the body as it is carried to the grave and lowered into it.

The positioning of the coffin or body prior to the committal is a matter of personal taste, you may wish for the coffin to be placed beside the grave (remembering that lowering ropes or webbing will need to be positioned centrally under the coffin) or by using three 'putlogs' about a foot wider than the grave itself to support the coffin directly above the excavation (again making sure lowering ropes are in position before the coffin is placed).

Lowering the coffin or body into the grave will usually require six people to ensure a smooth and dignified committal, although the weight of the deceased and the physical strength of the individual are factors to be taken into account. You will need three lengths of rope or flat webbing, one to lower the feet, one to lower the head and one to support the middle of the coffin or body. These should be equal to the width of the grave added to twice the depth, allowing extra so that the bearers can lower the coffin or body comfortably - an additional three to four feet at each end will usually be more than adequate. For example, if a grave is excavated to 6 feet and is 3 feet in width, each length of rope or webbing can be calculated as follows:
(depth x 2) + width + (2 x additional allowance) = total length (2 x 6) + 3 + (2 x 3) 12 + 3 + 6 = 21 Therefore, each rope should be 21 feet in length.

A mobile grave-digging service includes the provision of all of the equipment needed for the committal, as well as backfilling the grave; they may even be happy to discuss the hire of equipment for the committal if assistance with excavation is not required.


The process of replacing the excavated earth into the grave is known as backfilling, and although this is a straightforward process that requires little instruction, careful preparation can reduce the amount of maintenance works required in the future. When soil is replaced into a grave, it will inevitably contain more air pockets than the compacted soil before excavation. Over time, a backfilled grave will 'sink' as the air pockets escape and the soil settles; this is absolutely natural and practically unavoidable, especially in wet weather, but there are steps that can be taken to try to minimise this 'sinkage', thus making the effects less dramatic.

The finer the particles of soil returned to the grave, the smaller the air pockets between them will be; this will not prevent the grave sinking, but the effect will be more even across the surface of the grave and less dramatic than for larger particles with larger, uneven air pockets. If you feel it is appropriate, you may also consider compressing the replaced soil by treading or gently tamping the surface of the grave, rather like one would when preparing to lay a lawn.

Not everyone, however, would consider this appropriate, so regular topping up and levelling as required is an effective way to maintain a neat and cared for appearance.

If the grave is intended to contain two or more interments, one-above the other, it is important to remember that there should be at least 6 inches between the coffins or bodies. When backfilling, you might wish to mark the side of the grave around 8 inches above the top of the coffin or body; this will allow some margin for sinkage. Once the grave has been backfilled to the mark on the side of the grave, a length of brightly coloured non-biodegradable tape or other form of permanent marking (perhaps a layer of gravel or other decorative chipping) should be placed to warn the person who excavates the grave for a future burial that they are approaching the depth of the first burial. Many cemeteries use a plastic tape specifically manufactured for this purpose; you may be able to obtain a supply by contacting the Bereavement Services Section of your local council or Cemeteries Department.


There are certain permissions, documents and official forms that you will need in order for a burial to take place in private land; these are outlined below:

Permission of the landowner

It is advisable to gain written permission for the burial, even if you own the land yourself and keep a copy with other documents relating to the burial.

Certificate for Burial or Cremation

This is a green certificate that the Registrar will issue when the death is registered (or a yellow form if the death was reported to the coroner). The detachable section must be completed and returned to the Registrar (or Coroner) following the burial.

Burial Register

Every burial must be recorded in a burial register, stating the full name, address, age, date and place of burial and the name of the 'minister' (the name of the registrar who registered the death will suffice). In the case of a burial in private land, the register need not be anything more than a single sheet of paper, but it must be kept in a safe place to ensure that it is not destroyed and to ensure that the grave is not disturbed by accident.


A plan showing the exact location of the grave must be made. This also should be kept in a safe place together with the register.
Naturally, a burial is intended to be permanent, and besides the distress that accidentally disturbing a grave could cause, we would all wish for our loved ones to rest in peace. For this reason, the burial register and the plan should be stored with the Deeds to the house or other land where the burial has taken place. It would be wise to keep all of the documents described above together in a safe place along with the Deeds, to protect them from loss or damage.

What if my family moves house?

It would be wise to inform a potential buyer that the land contains a burial at the earliest opportunity. Although this may mean that the market value will be reduced, or a potential sale will not be completed, it will prevent the accidental disturbance of the grave if, for example there are any building works in the future.

It should also be remembered that the new owner of the property would be entitled to apply to the Ministry of Justice for a licence to exhume the deceased. The licence application process does make provision for the wishes of the next of kin of the deceased to be taken into account, so there is no guarantee that a licence will be granted, but it is less likely that someone who purchases property knowing that the land contains a burial would make an application.


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