The options for the place of burial are churchyard, cemetery, green burial ground or on private ground and there are also options for the different types of grave. We explain what you need to know.

On this page we give you information about:

1. Forms required for a burial
2. What happens at a burial?
3. Churchyard or cemetery?
4. Graves and gravestones
5. Green burial grounds
6. Burial on private land

Forms required for a burial

The funeral director can usually deal with the paperwork on your behalf. If you are organising it yourself, you must complete the detachable section of the certificate for burial (green form) and return it to the registrar within 14 days of the funeral taking place.

If your loved one is to be buried, you will also need:

  • an application form to purchase a new grave, or
  • a form to re-open an existing plot, in which case you will need the grave deeds.

We explain more about all these forms in Funeral paperwork.

What happens at a burial?

If there is a church service before the burial, most funeral services take about half an hour. Afterwards the bearers take the coffin to the burial site.

If there is no church service, the coffin is carried direct from the hearse to the graveside, where there is normally a short service.

As the words of committal are said by the officiant, the coffin will be lowered into the grave by the bearers. This part of the funeral service normally lasts about five minutes.

Churchyard or cemetery?

Whether or not to bury (also known as interment) your loved one may be determined by his or her faith and cultural tradition, but cost may also be a factor as cremation usually costs less (see Funeral costs).

Where there is space in a churchyard, parishioners will usually have the right of burial there. Churchyards that are closed for burials may still have space for the interment of ashes, especially if other family members are buried there.

Cemeteries may be run by local authorities or by private companies. Most are non-denominational and will host services for a range of faiths. However, some have areas dedicated to the use of particular faith groups or are traditionally used by people of certain ethnic backgrounds.

Your funeral director will know the local choices and will be able to advise on costs and other issues.

Graves and gravestones

Each cemetery has its own regulations about what is available in terms of graves and the style of memorial that is permitted. There are a number of things to consider, some of which will influence the price.

  • Is the position important to you? Does it need to be near a main access point?
  • Will the cemetery sell exclusive rights of burial in a plot with a lease, say, of up to 50 years? If you’re concerned about the cost, the cheapest option is to ask for a plot without the exclusive right of burial. Bear in mind that such a grave will have several burials in it of unrelated individuals.
  • Do you want a memorial headstone? Many municipal and private cemeteries stipulate lawn graves only, meaning there will be a simple headstone in line with other headstones, and no kerbs or surrounds to interfere with mechanical mowing. Upkeep of memorial stones is often neglected – another reason why authorities prefer to stipulate lawn graves only.
  • Will the cemetery allow flowers to be planted on the grave? Or the use of artificial flowers or other decorations, such as balloons or toys?
  • Who is responsible for the upkeep? In Church of England churchyards, for example, the family is responsible for looking after the grave in accordance with local regulations, and some dioceses insist on a financial contribution towards upkeep.

Green burial grounds

There are an increasing number of green burial grounds throughout the country, many of which take cremated remains. They are usually designed to be natural woodland or meadows.

Such burial grounds are carefully mapped so the location of each grave is known, and there are usually no markers or above ground memorials. Some sites mark the burial plots with trees – a choice may be offered of native species from the local area.

The owners of natural burial grounds are usually extremely helpful and many funerals are not traditional. Families create their own words and may use ‘alternative’ vehicles, such as a tractor-pulled trailer or a horse and cart to transport the coffin.

The only very strict rule is that everything placed in the ground must be biodegradable. This includes the coffin and any clothing the deceased is dressed in – and there can be no preservative treatment of the body.

To find out more about green burial grounds, contact the Natural Death Centre.

Burial on private land

A burial can take place on private land, such as farmland or a garden, provided all the normal procedures of registration of the death have been completed. To organise such a burial, you will have to:

  • get permission from the owner of the land where the burial is to take place if it is not your own
  • consult the Environment Agency, who will insist that the site is more than 10 metres from standing water and at least 50 metres from a drinking water source
  • ensure you are a safe distance from any utility pipes or cables
  • ensure the top of the coffin is one metre below ground level
  • inform any individual or mortgage company with an interest in the property of your intentions
  • attach notification that a burial has taken place to the deeds of the property together with an accurate map of the location. This information may reduce the value of the property.

More information

Page first published: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 May 2017