Forest of rest: An alternative way to rest in peace

A growing number of Scots are opting for a green burial, a last resting place in a woodland, eco-friendly cemetery

• Ben and Sarah Gray run Binning Memorial Wood in East Lothian, a 'green burial' site. Picture: Jane Barlow

WHEN Stella Macdougall and her sister Gill were left to arrange their beloved father's funeral, they were certain of one thing - they would steer clear of traditional options. Two years before, their mother Harriet had been cremated after she finally lost her battle with dementia at 87, and the family had been left feeling the ceremony lacked the hoped for warmth and personal touch.

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So when their father, Alister - a nature lover and keen walker died - they decided to look for a "greener " more environmentally friendly way to bury him.

"When my mother was cremated we all decided the whole event was quite impersonal. My father had said he was not happy with the whole act of cremation so we knew that was not an option for him," says daughter Stella.

Mr Tulloch, a former engineering teacher at Preston Lodge High School in Prestonpans, died earlier this year at 89 of bowel cancer, and had stipulated in his will that he wanted to leave his body to medical science.

"But when the time came the specialists said that he did not match their criteria - so we were left with the dilemma of choosing a funeral for him," Stella explains.

"He was not a religious person so the whole graveyard and religious ceremony would not have been fitting," she adds.

The sisters then came across a third funeral option, a "green burial", through a friend who had opted for a similar ceremony when her father had died.

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One of the ideas behind a "green burial" is to try to reduce the environmental an interment has on the land.

A basic requirement is that a tree is planted in memory of the person rather than a headstone. On the higher end of the "green" scale, bodies can be buried in willow coffins in woodlands or meadows and the bodies themselves can be free from the process of embalming to ensure they do not pollute the ground. Supporters of green burials say conventional funeral options are not environmentally friendly.

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They argue cremation uses fossil fuels to destroy the body which releases toxic emissions into the atmosphere, and headstones in cemeteries are often imported from China and so have a high carbon footprint.

Stella says they had been unsure of what a "green burial" meant but adds: "The more we looked into it the more we realised what a fitting burial it would be for him."In his early sixties my father developed his passion for walking and exploring the East Lothian countryside, so it seemed very appropriate that he was buried in woodland he loved so much."

The family searched the internet and discovered that a green burial site, in the mature setting of Binning Wood, near the East Lothian village of Tyninghame, had just opened.

"It seemed a perfect location for him to be buried, in an area where he had spent so much time," she adds.

In planning the funeral, the family had to meet the "green" criteria laid down by Ben Gray, who runs Binning Memorial Wood.

Stella says: "We had to chose an environmentally friendly coffin, which did not have any metal or plastic handles.

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"We also had to look at which flowers to chose because large plastic wrapped bouquets were not allowed so we chose a simple bunch of hawthorn blossoms."

After the burial, which was a humanist service attended by about 30 family members, they chose to mark the grave with a stone quarried from a site a few miles from the wood. They also decided to put their mother's ashes in the grave too.

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"We were delighted by the green burial. Dad had been very conscious of environmental issues and was known for reusing everything he could," Stella says.

Stella, who now lives in Hertfordshire, says her family have been so impressed with the woodland ceremony they have booked three more plots. "Hopefully not for any time soon," she adds.


THE growing number of people considering the impact of burial on the environment, and a dissatisfaction with more traditional funeral options motivated Ben Gray and his wife Sarah to open Binning Memorial Wood.

His father, John, bought the wood from the present Earl of Haddington in 2003, and since then they have been looking at turning part of it into a environmentally friendly business.

Mr Gray says: "Green burial is the way the world is going. People in life are so aware of the environment now. There is a huge emphasis on recycling, taking environmentally responsible choices in life so the knock-on effect is that we are taking that another step further - to the grave.

"Coupled with that is a gap in the market for a viable alternative to a cemetery or cremation - a beautiful natural final resting place."

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Binning Wood was originally planted in 1707 by the 6th Earl of Haddington but most trees were felled to help the war effort between 1942-45, with much of the timber being used to make the airframes for Mosquito fighter-bombers. It was replanted after the war and, at just 60 years old, is still considered relatively young.

It is the most recently opened natural burial site in the country and the first in the east of Scotland. According to figures from the Natural Death Centre, a charity which offers impartial advice for green burial sites, it makes sound investment sense. A single plot at Binning Memorial Wood costs 950.

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Rosie Inman-Cook, manager of the Natural Death Centre says green burials were a boom business. "Most sites are reporting 30 per cent growth year on year.

"People are fast realising that traditional funerals are not their only options - they realise they can do something more fitting and leave a living memory rather than polluting the atmosphere with their funerals.

"A green burial can be conducted by a minister, or it can be a humanist or pagan ceremony - or even just the family there - so it can be tailored to fit any belief."

Mrs Inman-Cook adds: "There is a fast growing dissatisfaction with the conventional options - funerals are becoming more a celebration of someone's life with an ecological undertow. People are becoming much more switched onto living "greener" lives. It is, therefore, a natural progression that we are wanting to ensure our deaths are as eco-friendly as can be."

However, she says that there are "shades of green" when it comes to "green burial sites."

"To call yourself a green burial site the very basic requirement is that a tree is planted rather than a headstone laid. This is often the case in council-run cemeteries.

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"However, each burial site as well as the customer is responsible for just how green they go.

For example some people will decide not to embalm their loved one because the procedure pumps the person full of toxins, which will seep into the earth.

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"Environmentally friendly coffins are usually requested - made from a sustainable wood source - but there are other options including woven ones and paper pulp ones made out of recycled newspaper.

"Where their loved one is buried the family usually chose to put a little marker, a locally sourced flat stone on the ground."

She says there are no specific legal criteria to becoming a "green burial site" apart from satisfying the needs from the Ministry of Justice such as record keeping, notifications and planning permission.

She concludes: "I would estimate that in 30 years time most human disposals will be at natural burial sites.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of the conservation group Friends of the Earth Scotland, adds: "It is good to see people considering the environment in everything they do, even at times of great personal sadness.

"Planting a tree can provide a positive long-standing memorial for someone's life."

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effort between 1942-45, with much of the timber being used to make the airframes for Mosquito fighter-bombers. It was replanted after the war and at just 60 years old is still considered relatively young.

It is the most recently opened natural burial site in the country and the first in the east of Scotland, and according to figures from the Natural Death Centre, a charity which offers impartial advice for greenCASE STUDY

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NICHOLAS Sanders organised the burial of his brother-in-law, Alexander Ross, in Binning Memorial Wood and says he thought it was the perfect choice.

Nicholas, 61, says: "We were looking at coffins on a funeral directors website and the option for a willow one came up - and from there we were directed to green burial sites.

"We were slightly concerned at first that many family members would think it a rather strange, unconventional route but in the end everyone was moved by the woodland setting and thought it was an amazing ceremony.

"Most graveyards feel like prisons keeping the spirits inside but in woodland there is a tremendous sense of freedom."

He says his father had been cremated and he thought the process lacked "soul and was spiritually devoid".

"I find it a very offensive way to part with the body - a coffin sliding down a mechanical runway and through a set of curtains. It's a soulless experience whatever your belief.

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"But walking through a wood where a loved one is buried is a much more positive, more liberating experience."

Nicholas, a retired environmental scientist who lives in Edinburgh, adds. "People should be thinking about the impact not just their life but their death too has on the environment."

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He says that his brother-in-law, who died aged 62 and had served with the Royal Navy, would have thought Binning Memorial Wood a fitting final resting place for him.

Nicholas explains: "Alexander was a socialist and was concerned about how he lived and interacted with the environment, so it seemed absolutely right he was buried in this way."