A meaningful and sustainable service for ashes after cremation

Going beyond scattering ashes for a commemoration that connects with nature whilst healing our planet on a grand scale.
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What is a meaningful and sustainable way to use ashes to commemorate death after cremation?

The relatively new origins of cremations

Cremation is a ‘relatively’ new practice in the UK that went from scorn and heresy in the 1800s to now being the norm – around 77% of all UK funerals are now cremations. Whilst a traditional coffin burial is grounded in tradition and ceremony, there are less rules regarding what to do with ashes. Rituals are still important though, due to the closure it creates around an emotionally challenging moment in life. As a result there are many symbolically meaningful things people do: keep an urn on the mantlepiece, scatter the ashes at sea or in nature, scatter ashes in a favourite place of the deceased, and even turn into jewellery.

The ritual of what to do with ashes is only as meaningful as it feels relevant to the person’s life that is being commemorated. What if that person loved nature, the outdoors, or living according to sustainable values? What if you are looking to create a positive legacy through the final act of one’s life that helps make the world a better place? Or more simply, what if you are looking to offset the environmental impact of a high-energy cremation?

A woodcut print of Woking Crematorium from 1878, the first crematorium in Europe.
A rewilding woodland burial for cremated ashes

At Return To Nature, we are developing an end-of-life service that will be a positive experience for friends and family in grief whilst making a hugely positive impact on our planet. It is suitable for exactly those who want to do something both meaningful and sustainable with cremated remains.

Right now, we are calling it a rewilding woodland burial, or simply a rewilding burial. It is similar to a woodland burial or natural burial; which often takes place in an existing woodland, uses only biodegradable materials, and does not prohibit decomposition through embalming fluids and chemical preservatives (if a burial of a body rather than interment of ashes). Yet a rewilding burial takes this a step further by prioritising the restoration of land as part of the burial practice.

A rewilding burial is suitable for both coffin burials and interment of ashes and aims to be the most sustainable burial for our planet.

Rather than maintaining an existing woodland, or planting a single tree, Return To Nature aims to reforest approximately an acre of ecologically degraded land per rewilding burial. A single acre could hold 500 to 1000 trees – an entire grove dedicated to the life and memory of a single person. This is possible because the burial ground, or ‘burial forest’, is located in the wilds of Scotland rather than in or near urban settlements where land is needed for housing and farming. According to the Woodland Carbon Code Calculator, one rewilding burial will capture approximately a third of your annual carbon footprint each year for the next 100 years.

Photo by Rémi Bertogliati

We envision a funeral where loved ones of the deceased can spend time in this beautiful wilderness that is on its way to becoming a vibrant ecosystem full of wildlife. We believe that spending time in nature and connecting to the healing of the planet will help the healing process of losing that loved one.

In many ways, a Return To Nature rewilding burial is not such a big departure from scattering ashes from a favourite hiking spot or coastal walk. Yet at the same time it has the potential to make a radically positive impact on our planet. It seeks to complete the cycle of life, where death creates new life, making us part of a movement towards being in harmony with the natural systems that sustain us.

Let's continue the conversation

If you are interested in a rewilding burial for ashes from a cremation, then take a look at our website and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

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