Home burials

The right to a private burial place has persisted from the days when Quakers often used to bury their relatives in the garden. More recently, particularly with the media coverage, families are keen to have "green" or alternative burials, and the number of burials which have taken place on private land (i.e. farmland or within gardens) has significantly increased.

The charity, Natural Death Centre also supports the less formal approach to funerals. However, the difficulties and procedures are also significant, although these vary according to the location. The definition of private land might be farmland or even a back garden.

There is nothing in the public general law, which prevents the burial of a deceased person in ground other than a cemetery. The only exception to this is where the burial on private ground would constitute a public health risk.

Perhaps the single fact regarding private land burial which most surprises people at the outset is that for a limited number of interments, planning permission is not required.

The reason is simple - 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 Natural Death Centre's 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.