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New Zealand's First Natural Cemetery Planned

Media Release

9 December 2003

New Zealand's first natural cemetery planned

Wellington will be the first city outside of the United Kingdom to boast its own natural cemetery, after a Wellington City Council Committee today agreed in principal to a proposal by Natural Burials.

Natural Burials, a four year old New Zealand organisation dedicated to creating and operating natural cemeteries, had sought permission and support from the Council to set up a natural cemetery in Wellington.

The Director of Natural Burials, Mark Blackham, praised the Council Committee for their visionary addition to the city's Cemetery Management Plan of the intent to facilitate the establishment of a natural cemetery.

He said the decision was exciting for the city, and for New Zealand.

"Soon New Zealanders will be able to have something many of them have always wanted when they die - to be buried in the bush.

"In death, people can nourish and fund the growth of a native forest - the ultimate memorial to them, and for their families," he said.

Mr Blackham said natural burials represented a new era of openness toward the subject of death. People were demanding more choice in the manner of their funeral and final resting place.

"Our research is showing that many people find the idea of lying in peace in a native forest, and contributing to the creation of that forest through the death process, very comforting and satisfying.

"People who choose natural burial will have a native tree planted on their grave instead of a headstone, with the surrounding area restored to native bush over time," he said.

"The goal is to give people the choice, through death, to contribute to a regenerating native forest cemetery and to have a burial that genuinely benefits the environment."

A natural burial differs from a conventional burial in the following ways:

* Bodies buried in a natural cemetery are buried intact, as they lived, wrapped in a shroud or in a light eco-coffin;

* Bodies are not embalmed, in order to speed return of the body to the earth and reduce harm caused to soil from toxic embalming fluids;

* A native tree replaces the headstone, although people can use small engraved local stones placed at the base of the tree;

* Bodies are buried one metre below the ground, rather than the conventional six feet clay burial, to facilitate the breakdown of the body;

* Families and friends can dig the graves themselves if they wish;

* The cemetery site is gradually restored to a full native or natural eco-system.

"Natural cemeteries have become increasingly popular around the world. In the UK, natural burials are growing three times faster than cremation did when first popularised.

"Research conducted by Natural Burials shows a third of New Zealanders want a burial that benefits the environment and helps create native bush parks," said Mr Blackham.

Mr Blackham said Natural Burials had already prepared plans for how it would operate the natural cemetery, and would now work with Council officials on the details.

Natural Burials was set up in 1999 create and run natural cemeteries. Its senior personnel and advisory group consists of doctors, ecologists, environmentalists, funeral directors, and business-people from around the country. It is linked to the UK-based Natural Death Centre, and adheres to the Code of Practice of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds.

Ends

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