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Natural burials in the British Jewish community - a response from Deryn Coe of the Arbory Trust

The remark ‘that was one of the most beautiful funerals I have ever been to’ is often heard at Barton Glebe. This, together with hearing the bereaved return over and over again and constantly remark on how beautiful and peaceful it is, is not only a source of great delight, but true validation that the original vision has become reality.

That vision was to provide an alternative to the traditional churchyard which is no longer available to many, particularly in urban areas. For Christians, the appreciation that God gives us a charge to care for our world is important. The donation of our mortal remains, the husk that remains when the soul has gone, is perhaps the ultimate organ donation. 

For many, Christian and non-Christian alike, ecology is important, and often reflected in a wish to maintain a vibrant world, and woodland burial offers the chance to make a dying gift to contribute towards the creation of a woodland green lung.

With practicalities such as all coffins being bio-degradable, no permanent grave markers such as headstones allowed, and the encouragement of wild flowers and a return of wildlife to the area, this type of burial is appealing to many, and we welcome them all. Whilst the trust is a Church of England charity, and we make no secret of that, we welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of race or religion. There are no geographical or theological boundaries governing who may be buried at the Glebe.

The trees, planted following consultation with the Forestry Commission, are all native to the area, and are planted in a glade pattern, with burials take place in the glades. New trees are not planted with each burial, unlike many other woodland burial grounds. The graves form part of the meadow as time passes, and while permanent markers are not permitted, simply engraved wooden markers, together with wild flowers and bulbs may be placed. Existing trees may also be adopted, rather than new trees planted. 

The woodland is as much for the bereaved as the deceased.  A clear object is to provide a place of natural beauty and peace - a collective site of memory for those who remember their loved ones. We have been surprised at the camaraderie that has developed between those families with relatives buried at Barton (and indeed with those who have made reservations for the future), and recognize the pastoral role we do have in the bereavement process for many. All who work for the Arbory Trust are trained in bereavement counselling, in recognition of the vulnerability of the recently bereaved, and of the continuing need to help them as time passes, and this enables us to provide not only an efficient, professional burial ground service, but one with a caring approach.

The Arbory Trust is a non-profit making Church of England registered charity, established in 2000, and was set up by a small group led by Rev Peter Owen-Jones.

The land (originally church Glebe land, and still referred to as Barton Glebe) was consecrated by the Bishop of Ely, the chairman of our trustees, in 2002. The fact that the land is consecrated provides great comfort to many, not only members of the Church of England, giving an assurance that many other woodland burial grounds cannot. The site will ultimately cover 30 acres in total, but in Phase One just under half of that is currently in use.

Initial teething problems were many and varied, ranging from obtaining planning permission, considerations such as the level of the water table, researching into the woodland to be created, and sourcing funding for the entire project. An enthusiastic group of trustees was gathered at the outset, with a wide range of essential expertise, and many remain actively involved. With these initial problems overcome, the Trust is now run by a Working Group of trustees and a small staff (all part-time).

The first burial actually took place in 2000 before a single new tree had been planted and to date over 250 interments have taken place, with nearly 400 people having made reservations (many fully paid) for the future. Each year sees a new phase in the development of the Trust, and numbers of interments and reservations continue to grow.

Whatever it is that motivates people to consider woodland burial at Barton Glebe, we welcome them all, and intend still to be doing so for many years to come.  

Following a career as a private client lawyer in London, then living in the USA for 7 years and producing three children, Deryn has been with the Arbory Trust since April 2005. She deals with both the bereaved and all involved with running the trust, from trustees and lawyers, to gravediggers and wildlife experts, providing a job way beyond anything she could have imagined when starting out as a lawyer!

October 2006


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