As more people become concerned about their impact on the environment, the demand for “green funerals” and natural burials is on the rise nationwide.
Steps are being taken locally at Astwood Cemetery in Worcester, to ensure the site is a quiet resting place where nature can flourish.
Opened in 1850, Astwood Cemetery covers 68 acres and contains approximately 55,000 burial plots as well as cremated remains.
Archive image of Astwood Cemetery, opened in 1850
It has a number of memorials of historical and architectural interest, and these are mainly in the older parts of the cemetery where the first burials are said to have taken place.
One of Worcester’s most famous sons, Sir Charles Hastings (1796-1866), a founding member of the British Medical Association and knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to medicine, is buried here.
Today the cemetery is owned by Worcester City Council and managed by Doug Henderson, who holds a degree in environmental science. On the advice of conservation experts, Doug’s team reinvigorated a natural burial area, away from the more formal parts of the cemetery.
The natural burial area at Astwood Cemetery in Worcester
“Green burials are growing in popularity across the UK,” he explains. Instead of being buried or having the cremated remains placed in a demarcated plot, the deceased is buried or the remains are scattered in a grassland site surrounded by trees.
Astwood Cemetery’s natural burial area uses specialized techniques to promote the growth of wildflowers, which benefits a variety of insects, including bees.
In association with the Worcester Bee Keepers Association, two hives were introduced to the area in 2021 – producing six kilograms of honey in the first year alone!
Interpretive signs have also been installed around the cemetery, giving an overview of the wildlife that lives there and explaining that certain areas are intentionally mowed less frequently, to encourage the growth of wildflowers.
Woodpeckers are a familiar sight and sound at Astwood Cemetery
The cemetery is also home to a wide variety of trees, including American redwoods; woodpeckers are regularly seen and heard there.
The Worcester City Council team, in partnership with the RSPB, have installed over 30 nest boxes around the site to provide shelter for more species.
Volunteers from the Worcester Environmental Group also set up bat boxes and built log piles to attract insects and slow worms.
An abundance of primroses grow at Astwood Cemetery
But above all, the cemetery will always remain a place of quiet reflection where loved ones are remembered.
A special ‘Forget You Not’ garden has been created in Astwood, offering visitors the opportunity to sit and reflect in an area surrounded by wildflowers.
Corn paper slips and envelopes impregnated with wildflower seeds are available free of charge from the cemetery office.
Visitors are invited to sit on a granite bench and write a message to their loved one and post it in a specially carved, beehive-shaped mailbox.
Over time, the notes and envelopes are scattered like mulch around the site, replanting wildflowers from visitors’ letters to loved ones.
For more information visit worcestercemeteries.co.uk