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Natural burial plot (with whānau permission)

A natural burial, sometimes called a green or eco-burial, is a contemporary concept for disposition of the deceased that minimises impact on the environment. It's an ecological and simple approach that challenges what we currently think of as a traditional burial. In reality, this practice is a return to indigenous and historical ways. 


In a natural burial, the un-embalmed body lies in a completely biodegradable shroud or coffin, and is placed in a shallow grave within the active microbial layer of soil. The principle rejects the idea of preserving bodies after death, instead encouraging decomposition to happen according to nature's time frame, usually within a few years. The life cycle is sustained, nourishing the eco system and benefiting the living creatures within it. Within a few years the grave will have blended into the surrounding area.

The essential difference between a natural burial and a traditional one is that everything introduced to the site - coffin, shroud, clothing, artefacts and flowers - must eventually be able to compost back into the earth. The inherent beauty of the environment is preserved, creating a living memorial space that flourishes and changes with the seasonsVisiting these peaceful places can connect us to the natural world, perhaps inspire a sense of wonder and offer a reinterpretation of the grave as being a place of circularity rather than finality. The impact of this on grieving is said to be both uplifting and healing.


Example of grave marker using a plot compass

Aotearoa's first natural burial ground opened in Makara Cemetery, Wellington in 2008. In 2024 there are 20 grounds established around the country and more planned. Each is different, some are in natural bush and others in open spaces, valleys or hillsides. There are no traditional headstones, rather graves might be marked with GPS, tree plantings, a collective plaque or perhaps a personalised artwork made of natural materials. Burial grounds may also differ slightly in how they are regulated, you can find these details by contacting your local council.  Rates for natural burials are set by council, and will cost around $3000. 


Natural burial is a growing movement that promises to bring about a positive cultural shift in attitudes and practices around death care, not just for the environment but also for it's contribution to death literacy - encouraging conversations about funerals and empowering people to be active participants in this important and final life event.  

You can find more information on the Natural Burials website, including locations of natural cemeteries across the moto, or how to arrange a natural burial at the link below. 

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