Burial on private land

In recent years, with the increasing public interest in natural burial, many people are considering the possibility of such a burial on their own property.  

Among other advantages this can be an entirely private affair, and it will avoid the expense of a grave in a cemetery or burial ground which can be appreciable.

There will be no need for a funeral director or a funeral service, and the grave can be on un-consecrated ground.

In general burial on one’s own property is an option which is available to anyone who has space to spare on a site where the burial will not cause a nuisance to neighbours or create an environmental or health problem.

There are however a number of statutory requirements which must be complied with, and some other points to bear in mind.

The legal position

In England and Wales there is no law which prohibits burial on private land, and this is also the case in Scotland.

An owner of an adjoining property would however have a remedy in common law if the burial could be shown to be injurious to health or a nuisance to neighbours.

Before a burial can take place, the death must have been registered with the local Registrar of Births and Deaths, for which a Doctor’s Certificate of Death is required.

Deeds and mortgage

The owner of the land on which the burial is to take place should check their deeds in case there is a restrictive covenant preventing the burial of human remains on the property.

If the property is mortgaged the owner should also check the contract conditions, in case it may be necessary to seek the lender’s permission.

 Environmental aspects

It will be advisable to consult with the Environment Agency about any possible pollution of local water courses and the water table. The Agency’s guidelines are that the burial site must be:

(1) at least 250 metres from any well, borehole or spring that supplies water either for human consumption or for use in farm dairies;

(2) at least 30 metres from any other spring or water course; and

(3) at least 10 metres from any field drain which is draining into a water course.

The Agency also stipulates the following:

(1) that when the grave is first dug, the bottom of the hole must be free of water;

(2) that the grave should have at least one metre of subsoil below the bottom of the burial cavity; and

(3) that the depth of soil on top of the coffin, measured to ground level, should be at least one metre.

It will also be advisable to check with the water, gas and electricity suppliers in case there are any buried lines or pipes close to the proposed site.

The local authority

It will be advisable to inform the local Council’s Environmental Health Department of the intended burial, as they will be concerned that no nuisance will be caused and that there will be no risk to public health.

The burial will not require planning permission unless it is proposed to put up a permanent memorial.  Planning permission might however be required where the burial site would constitute a change of use, for example where several graves are proposed in a garden.

The police

It will be advisable to inform the local police of the date and location of the proposed burial since the event, which is unusual, may attract attention, and the police may wish to investigate in case anything unlawful is going on.

Record of the burial

The owner of the land on which a burial takes place is bound by law to maintain a register of burials.

All that is needed is to record the name of the deceased and the date of death in a notebook or on a sheet of paper, together with a note or better still a sketch plan of the location of the grave.

This record should be kept in a safe place, so that it can be referred to if there is a risk that the grave may be disturbed by building work or construction some time in the future.

Possible objections

There are unlikely to be any problems with burial in a field or wood or paddock, but the neighbours may object to a burial in a small garden.

Other possible drawbacks

Burial in a small garden will devalue the property, possibly by as much as 20 or even 50 per cent, and some prospective purchasers may be put off altogether.

It is also worth bearing in mind that there may be problems with access to the grave once the property is sold, and that without a restrictive covenant the new owner may be free to apply to apply for permission to disinter the remains and move them elsewhere.

One other option

For those for whom burial on their own property is not an option there is always the possibility that they may be able to purchase a field or a small wood for their own burial, which in due course could become the family burial ground.

Please note

The information which we provide through Lasting Post is in outline for information or educational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a solicitor, accountant or other professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by Lasting Post will meet your individual needs, as this will very much depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point for your enquiries.