What makes a Return To Nature rewilding burial the most positive end-of-life arrangement for our planet?

A rewilding burial is not only low impact but actively reverses biodiversity loss whilst capturing huge amounts of carbon.
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What makes a Return To Nature rewilding burial the most positive end-of-life arrangement for our planet? To answer that question, it is important to firstly understand exactly what a rewilding burial is.

What is a rewilding burial?

A rewilding burial uses principles of rewilding to ecologically restore land on which people are being buried. Rewilding is an emerging yet fast-growing approach to conservation that seeks to understand the state of past ecosystems before modern human impact, using that as inspiration to inform interventions that will tip the balance of the ecosystem so that nature can take care of itself. Simply put, rewilding seeks to return the stewardship of land back to nature.

A Return To Nature rewilding burial takes this a step further and aims to maximise positive impact by maximising the amount of land allocated for each individual burial. This means that our burial grounds (or what we call a ‘burial forest’) will be further away from urban areas than traditional burial grounds, in the wilds of Scotland where land value is more accessible. As a result, travel to the Return To Nature burial forest might take an hour to maybe even three – rather than travelling 20 to 40 minutes to visit a traditional burial ground. In return, we are able to offer whole groves of trees (maybe around 500 trees) personally for each burial. What do you think about this? Would you be willing to tradeoff a longer travel time to maximise positive ecological impact?

Aerial photograph of around an acre of autumnal forest. Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

This intention to maximise positive impact also applied to mental health. We believe that an end-of-life arrangement should celebrate the life of the deceased whilst supporting the mental health of loved ones left behind. This topic is an important mission guiding Return To Nature, so there is an entire article dedicated to it which you can read here.

Prioritising positive impact over traditional practices has resulted in a rethinking of what elements of a funeral are truly necessary. Funeral practices are already undergoing a major shift, with most people opting for simple cremations (77% of funerals in the UK are cremations). If we forgo traditional and expensive elements such as ornate hardwood coffins and victorian-style hearses, then we can ensure that greater priority is given to the mental health of the deceased’s family and friends for example. However, what can not be compromised is respecting the deceased and celebrating their life in the best way possible. What is essential to keep and what to omit for a rewilding burial? Please do get in touch and let us know your views on this.

The impact of a Return To Nature rewilding burial

With an understanding of what a Return To Nature rewilding burial is, we can better understand how it creates positive impact. The philosophy behind Return To Nature is about moving from being sustainable to regenerative; from sustaining the status quo to regenerating the world into a better place. There are three ways this will happen: through carbon capture, safeguarding biodiversity and simply making beautiful landscapes.

The burial that captures carbon
The forest floor: where carbon from the atmosphere is stored away into soil for as long as it is undisturbed. Photo by Eva Elijas from Pexels

Each burial will capture carbon every year for decades, even hundreds of years through the restoration of woodland habitat. A Return To Nature rewilding burial will actively plant trees and reduce grazing pressure. Currently, the Scottish countryside is overgrazed by deer and sheep, so reducing that pressure will allow natural regeneration of woodland to occur. Using the Woodland Carbon Code Calculator, we estimate that over the next 100 years, a rewilding burial will capture around 3.1 tonnes of carbon on average per year. That represents a nearly a third of a UK person’s carbon footprint captured (based on UK per capita emissions average from 1960 to 2014). That means every three people who opt for a Return To Nature burial will be actively removing the carbon impact of one person’s entire lifetime.

All the time there is emerging science about the impact of rewilding – particularly around the positive benefit of grazers on woodland-pasture ecosystems. There is potential that the carbon capture could even be triple in size depending on the landscape and ecosystem. If you want to read more on this, we can recommend the excellent book, Rewilding by Blythe and Jepson. You can bet that we are keeping abreast of the latest thinking in rewilding and will be incorporating this into our burial forests in years to come.

The burial that safeguards biodiversity
A cheeky red squirrel, reliant on healthy forest ecosystems, peers down from a Scots Pine. Photo by MusicFox Fx on Unsplash

A Return To Nature rewilding burial also promotes and safeguards biodiversity of both trees and the myriad species that woodland ecosystems support.

Currently, 18.5% of Scotland is forested. This is surprisingly low for a country of relatively low population density in comparison with the European average of 43% forest cover. In addition to reforesting more of Scotland’s land area, Return To Nature also believes in diversifying the species of trees in our landscape. According to the Forestry Commission's Forestry Statistics 2019 report, 43.6% of Scotland’s forest cover is Stika Spruce alone – a non-native species grown exclusively for timber in high density. Whilst there has been fantastic progress over the past 10 years alone, with the area of broadleaves increasing by 55% and Scots Pine by 22%, we believe that more can be done to increase the amount of native and natural woodlands in our country.

This will support a wide diversity of species that are reliant on forest ecosystems. From Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029, page 11:

Forests and woodlands support a diverse range of species and are rich in biodiversity; to date, researchers at Stirling University have recorded over 1000 species associated with Scottish forests. These include 172 protected species, comprising some of Scotland’s most charismatic and recognisable species, including the pine marten, twinflower, crested tit, Scottish Crossbill, black grouse, capercaillie, as well as an estimated 75% of the UK’s red squirrel population.

Biodiverse ecosystems with healthy populations of as many species as possible are resilient ecosystems. In anticipation of future climatic disruption as a result of anthropogenic global heating, it is important to encourage resilient ecosystems that will be able to withstand shock and change.

The burial that creates a beautiful landscape

We have covered the positive impacts that a Return To Nature rewilding burial will have on our climate and ecosystems but what about us as people?

Imagine an entire landscape rich in wildlife across a mosaic of habitats: woodland, glades, riparian, peatland, montane and more. Imagine the huge variety of species to joyfully capture glimpses of. Imagine the centuries of change unfolding before your mind’s eye, safe in the knowledge that this land is protected now and forever as a fully functioning ecosystem. The pleasure that this will bring surely speaks for itself.

Continue the conversation

If you want your last action to be a legacy of positive change for people, place and planet then hopefully a Return To Nature rewilding burial sounds like the fitting sendoff to your time on this beautiful planet.

Do get in touch, the future of rewilding burials will be influenced by people like you. Let us know your views on:

  • What you think is essential to be included in a rewilding burial?
  • What you would be happy to omit from your funeral to prioritise your friends and family’s wellbeing and the healing of the planet?
  • Would you prefer a highly impactful burial that is further away from where you live; or a more moderately impactful burial that is closer?
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