Burial on private land
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Readers keep asking if they can bury a deceased relative in their garden or paddock, and if so, how to go about it. 

The answer seems to be – yes you can, but consider the implications carefully. 

In England, everything that is not specifically prohibited is permitted; so, since there is no law prohibiting burial on private land, it is permitted.  

Cemeteries require planning permission but a place of burial without fences or gravestones is not a cemetery in planning law.  Subject to restrictive covenants, one “can be established by any person without statutory authority, provided that no nuisance is caused.”   There is no need for any special type of coffin, or a coffin at all, no need for a service, or a licensed undertaker, and you don’t need permission from anyone.  

But remember, “provided that no nuisance is caused.”   This means you must have the landowner’s permission, bury the body deep enough for it not to get dug up by animals, avoid sites near water supplies and not cut utility cables.   The Environment Agency have listed some practical guidelines. 

The burial site must:

Be at least 250 metres away from any well, borehole or spring that supplies water for human consumption or is to be used in farm dairies; 
Be at least 30 metres from any other spring or water course 
At least 10 metres from any field drain (draining to a water course);
Have at least one metre of subsoil below the bottom of the burial cavity, allowing a hole deep enough for at least one metre of soil to cover the burial; 
When the burial cavity is first dug, the bottom of the hole must be free of standing water.

You also need certificate for burial, which you can get from the Registrar of Births & Deaths, or the Coroner, if the death had been notified to him.

In addition there seems to be some sort of requirement to keep a record of who was buried where.  A notebook of the person’s name, location and date, kept with the title deeds to the land is probably sufficient.  The detachable section of the certificate for burial won't do.  This has to be returned to the Registrar, but he does not keep a record of location so you have to do that for yourself.

So what is the downside?

Probably none at all if you do it in a field, wood or paddock.  But if you do it in a small suburban garden the neighbours may object and, unless it is Princess Diana you are buying, you will probably detract from the value of your house.  Unless you place a restrictive covenant on the property, future owners  might even be able to exhume the body and rebury it, which may not be what you planned. 

Finally, burying one or two bodies in your backfield is one thing, but if you plan to bury much more than this the council will argue that the change of use requires planning permission.  You would also need planning permission to erect a memorial.  But we are talking green burial here; you won’t need planning permission to sprinkle some seeds or plant a tree.

My advice is this.  If you’ve got a bit of land well away from the neighbours go right ahead.  If you’ve only got a small suburban garden, think again. 

Jim Thornton, Nottingham, 30 September 2005


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Last modified: February 05, 2006