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Private burials

Burying loved ones on private land is legally-permissible, and although relatively uncomplicated there are certain aspects that need to be checked and considered before you go ahead. It is wise to do this before it becomes a time critical matter. The following information is provided by the Natural Death Centre:

  • you must have the consent of the owner of the freehold of the land
  • the freeholder should check that there are no restrictive covenants attached to the title deeds or registration of the property that prohibit burial
  • you must be able to satisfy the Environment Agency that the burial will not take place within certain distances of specific types of water; i.e.
  • at least 10 metres from any ‘dry’ ditch or field drain
  • at least 30 metres from any spring or any running or standing water
  • at least 50 metres from any well, borehole or spring that supplies water for any use.

There must be a minimum depth between the settled soil level and the top of the coffin or shroud (see note below).

The person responsible for the burial must obtain a Certificate of Authority for Burial from the Registrar of Births and Deaths (or in special circumstances from the Coroner) before the burial takes place. This is routinely issued at the time of the registration of the death, and more commonly referred to as 'the green form’.

  • Within 96 hours of the burial, the slip attached to the bottom of the Certificate for Burial or Cremation must be completed with the date and place of the burial, and returned to the Registrar of Births and Deaths.
  • The owner (or owner’s agent) of the land on which the burial has taken place must prepare and keep a burial register in a safe place.

The role of the local authority

For a limited number of interments, planning permission is not required.

The presence of a very small number of burials would not constitute a ‘material change of use’, hence no such consent would be required. The only caveat here is that case law has seen the use of the words ‘limited’ and ‘restricted’ rather than a definition which sets out a precise number. Logically what might be a reasonable number in rural farmland should exceed that in a suburban garden, but as no definitive ruling can be cited it would be wise to err on the side of caution and consider that more than two burials could encourage the planning authority to require the submission of an appropriate application, so you would be advised to contact the planning team.

Please however contact the Health Protection Hub at HealthProtectionHub@telford.gov.uk at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your plans with you and/or your funeral director.

There are no environmental implications from the burial of cremated ashes so there is no need to contact us in that event.

Grave digging and grave depth

Grave preparation should include a preliminary excavation to ensure that standing water does not gather when it is first dug, and that the soil is not too sandy.

There is no legal minimum depth for a burial. However, the Ministry of Justice recommends that natural burial ground operators place a minimum of two foot of soil between a coffin lid and the ground level. A shallow grave is safer and easier to dig and it is felt by many that the recycling of the body is quicker and less environmentally harmful if nearer to the surface with access to oxygen.

Remember that an open grave can be hazardous, and should be adequately protected before the burial takes place. If the chosen plot is in an area which is crossed by a public footpath it may be advisable to apply for the temporary closure or diversion of the path under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to ensure that there is no risk to the general public while there is an open grave and that there is privacy at the time of the burial.

Consideration should also be given to any pipes or cables that may pass through the intended burial area – you may need to check plans or deeds or contact local utilities companies.

More information on grave digging is contained in a technical leaflet available from the Natural Death Centre.

Some other points to consider

There may be far fewer regulations than might have been imagined, but it is advisable to give careful consideration to some of the possible consequences of private land burial.

What about access to visit the grave should the property be sold in the future? It would be possible to create a right of access for grave visits by way of an easement, but such an arrangement may deter a purchaser.

What effect would a burial or burials have on the property value? Over the years it has been argued by some that an adverse effect would be inevitable, but that would be difficult to prove in any particular case. What is clear is that some properties will be far better suited than others. One or two burials in a quiet favourite spot near a tree in a rural paddock are unlikely to have the same impact as a burial in a suburban back garden.

Although planning permission is not required for a limited number of burials, some built memorials would attract the attention of the planning authority. This need not be a concern if you just intend to plant a tree.

Keeping a burial register does not mean that you have to purchase a special book from a legal stationers. A simple document will suffice, provided that it records the essential details of the deceased, and the date and place of interment with an accompanying plan showing the grave’s location. The Natural Death Centre can provide a sample form.

Last updated: 13/02/2023 11:51

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