How a rewilding burial works

When designing a rewilding burial, we asked ourselves how this final act could make the most positive difference to our loved ones and our planet.
For large-format text, toggle below:

A rewilding burial places emotional and ecological regeneration at its heart.

This is our current vision for what a Return To Nature rewilding burial. Expect this to change as Return To Nature learns and grows.

What is a rewilding burial?

A rewilding burial is similar to a woodland burial in regards to adhering to natural burial practices within a woodland area over a traditional graveyard. In both, there is an emotional connection to nature. Where the similarities end is the scale. Return To Nature aims to maximise the amount of land that is allocated to each burial. The current aim is one acre per person for less than the cost of a traditional burial. To put that in context, that’s 500 to 1000 trees and the huge diversity of flora and fauna they support. A lively and diverse ecosystem. To achieve this state of ecological richness, Return To Nature will follow rewilding principles.

We aim for a rewilding burial to be one acre per person, representing 500 to 1000 trees.

There are three major principles that I think helps explain a rewilding approach to land management over a more traditional conservation approach.

  1. Minimum human management
    Nature is the best steward of land to achieve a state of ecological climax when left to its own devices. However, intervention is required where there are existing (often human-derived) pressures that prevent it from reaching this climax state. The objective of the intervention is only to tip the balance of the ecosystem towards a climactic and stabilised state.
  2. Overcoming shifting baselines syndrome
    Rather than conserving the landscape of a century or two ago, rewilding seeks to understand past ecosystems as inspiration of how to introduce the right conditions for the landscape to return itself to ecological stability and climax. There is no such thing as returning to the past, so this understanding of past ecosystems serves primarily as guidance and inspiration, not a prescriptive set of rules.
  3. Nondeterministic in outcomes
    Since we can not truly return to the past and aim to hand stewardship to unpredictable natural processes, it means that a rewilding approach can not control the outcome. Rather, rewilding lets the outcome emerge through the goal of aiming for maximum biodiversity and ecosystem resilience – over quotas for certain species for example.

The science and practice of rewilding is always learning and evolving, and Return To Nature will be keenly following it to apply emerging insights and principles.

Emotional regeneration

A rewilding burial creates an emotional connection with nature – again akin to a woodland burial. Appreciation for and spending time in nature is proven to have powerful benefits to our mental health. This is hugely important at such emotionally challenging times such as facing our own mortality and experiencing grief due the loss of a loved one.

Where a rewilding burial takes this a step further is in connecting to a grand restoration story of our planet. Taking part in the healing of the land, climate and planet on a grand scale through a Return To Nature rewilding burial is hugely positive. We hope that enabling people to make this their final act in life will leave a positive legacy for their friends and family to connect to. Similarly, it is easier to face our own mortality if we feel like the world is moving towards a positive direction after we are gone. This is a topic of huge importance to Return To Nature, which is why you can read about it in more depth in our article on the role of nature in supporting mental wellbeing.

In 50-100 years time, a rewilding burial plot might look something like this.
Ecological regeneration

With those rewilding principles in mind, the next step is to describe what we are aiming for and what intervention will be necessary to kick off that rewilding process.

To look back at what we are aiming for, sometimes it can be useful to look at language. The etymology of the old word for Scotland, Caledonia, although not entirely agreed upon, is thought to be derived from Romans. They referred to the land area known today as Scotland as “wooded heights”. Many Scottish Gaelic place names also refer to the landscape at the time they were coined: Doire Domhainn on Raasay, Deep Wood; Beinn Leamhain near Ardgour, Mountain of Elm; Druim na Coille on Skye, Ridge of the Wood. Many of these place names are no longer thriving with the forests from which their names derived. Armed with an Ordnance Survey map and a copy of a Scottish Gaelic dictionary or John Murray’s Reading the Gaelic Landscape, many more examples can be found.

With this historical context in mind, Return To Nature is looking towards a mosaic landscape of forest, heathland and grassland as the ambition for ecological restoration. This is likely the landscape prior to the industrial scale of modern day sheep grazing, moorland game shooting.

To tip the balance of the ecosystem towards this state requires reducing grazing pressure that is preventing the reestablishing of tree seedlings. In spring, when there is little other vegetation for unchecked numbers of deer (due to no apex predators), sugar-filled new growth of tree seedlings are a favoured food source. This prevents new saplings from taking over from centuries-old trees reaching the end of their lives, resulting in a denuded landscape. The use of deer fencing removes grazing pressure allows enough time for tree saplings to establish themselves past the grazing height of deer.

In some situations, there is not a comprehensive seed bank to kickstart natural regeneration when grazing pressure is removed. In these situations, indigenous species of tree saplings are planted to create a diverse seed bank for the future. The planting of these tree saplings aims to mimic nature as much as possible. This approach rejects monoculture planting and geometric rows of trees in favour of a mix of species planted where they would naturally thrive.

Reestablishing the wisdom of nature

At its heart, Return To Nature is striving to reestablish the wisdom of nature as steward of the land and a spiritual anchor for the human condition. We hope that a land returned to the warm embrace of nature will be both beautiful and peaceful for its future inhabitants.

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” ― David Brower

Check out our Rewilding Burial
Sign up to our waiting list
Let us know what you think

About us

Sign up