On the 26th July 2017 we visited a brand new Natural Burial Ground. It was in Wales, called Hay Meadows. And that is exactly what it was. Only recently, had the owners cut a whole crop off hay off the field.
This was our first encounter with the idea that not only could the land be used for more than one purpose, but it actually didn’t have to be woodland or bush at all. Any paddock could be a natural burial ground and the potential existed for not only hay, but sheep grazing, flower meadows or complete land regeneration into bush land.
Hay Meadows only opened its gates in January 2017 and in those few months there had been 2 burials. The owners completely privately own the land and they plan to keep it in the family. He told us that eventually he would like to plant wildflowers there – and indeed only about 2 weeks ago, he involved the local school children and they all walked the paddock scattering wildflower seed.
Once again, we were amazed at the openness, the honesty and the hospitality of these people. The owner knocked off shearing his sheep to take us inside his home, give us tea and talk us through how he set up Hay Meadows, how it runs, the problems they have had and the benefits they have discovered. Here, he digs the graves himself. He has the machinery and he has an intimate knowledge of the plan and lay out and he is able to control the depth this was as well. He allows 3ft from the top of the coffin to the top of the soil.
He had built quite a decent sized car park at the gates, although there would only have been space for maybe 15 cars once you got a hearse in there comfortably. They are such narrow little country lanes about those parts, not room for 2 cars to pass each other and both stay on the road… so room for a hearse to turn becomes quite important.
The owner told us about his grid system, he allows the same space for burial, each plot being 1.5x3m and he works in 12 plot squares. That way, if one plot ends up a little off the grid center, every 12 plots he has the opportunity to start again. The little bits of left over land on the edges of the paddock he has earmarked for baby burials and the burial of ashes. He is quite particular about what goes in the ground and he has strict guidelines. To that effect, he has met with several of the local Funeral Homes and keeps that communication open with them.
As we walked the burial ground we could see the little markers he has laid out indicating the corners of the grid squares, from these he is able to locate the plots. The grass there was lovely. There were some pretty blue wild flowers already but looking a the ground, surrounded on 3 sides by beautiful tall thick hedges and with sheep grazing on the rolling hills in the background, i can only imagine how pretty it will be once all of the newly scattered wildflower seed strikes.
We had just over an hour with the owner, he left us with a copy of his purchase agreement – very interestingly, he has a clause in his which says that if after 30 years the plot has not been required and he has not heard from the owner, he will make every effort to contact them but should that fail, the plot will be forfeit. It makes sense when you consider how much people move about these days, and how lovely to have a way to keep people connected to their burial ground, even if it is only once in every 30 years! Like us, he was keen not to re-invent the wheel, so to speak. He had done a lot of research and has many hours talking to owners of natural burial grounds, finding out what worked and learning from their mistakes.
It was lovely to see such a small and family operated venture in the new and exciting stages of development.