“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature and its beauty.” Thich Nhat Hanh
“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir
Quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, and from John Muir, naturalist, environmental philosopher, and writer seem an apt way to introduce the topic of Conservation Burial Grounds. These amazing and transformative places inspire us poetically, artistically, and spiritually as much as they awaken our curiosity about science and our social norms.
A Bit of History
Conservation Burial Grounds are not just green cemeteries, though they are that. In fact, they are as much about new life and rebirth as they are about end of life and interment. These natural preserves are beautiful places. At Ramsey Creek Preserve, the first Conservation Burial Ground in the US, people often choose to have new baby celebrations, weddings, and other joyous events at the preserve. They are also places for quiet, contemplative remembrance and cathartically grieving and honoring the loss of those we love.
Photos from Ramsey Creek Preserve and Greensprings Natural Burial Ground: http://www.memorialecosystems.com/ and http://www.naturalburial.org/
In founding Ramsey Creek Preserve, Billy and Kimberly Campbell really energized a movement whose time had come. Soon the green burial movement was gaining traction in the U.S. It quickly became apparent that a set of standards that could describe what a ‘green burial’ is, and could differentiate between facilities that provide them, and those that don’t, was critical. The possibility for ‘green washing’ loomed large. Joe and Juliette Sehee, with input from the Cambells and others, formed The Green Burial Council (GBC).
Per their website, GBC is an independent, nonprofit organization (501(c)(6) working to encourage environmentally sustainable death care and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas. The Green Burial Council established standards for funeral homes and cemeteries willing to offer eco-friendly death-care, as well as for manufacturers of green burial products and supplies.
The Green Burial Council recognizes three distinct forms of green cemeteries, or burial grounds, and has established standards and a framework of best management practices (BMPs) for each. The three categories are as follows:
Hybrid Burial Grounds: are conventional cemeteries offering the option for burial without the need for a vault (partial, inverted or otherwise), a vault lid, concrete box, slab or partitioned liner. Hybrid Burial Grounds shall not require the embalming of decedents and must allow for any kind of eco-friendly burial containers including shrouds.
Natural Burial Grounds: require the adoption of practices/protocols that are energy-conserving, minimize waste, and do not require the use of toxic chemicals. A Natural Burial Ground achieves GBC certification by prohibiting the use of vaults (partial, inverted or otherwise), vault lids, concrete boxes, slabs or partitioned liners, and by prohibiting the burial of decedents embalmed with toxic chemicals, as well as by banning burial containers not made from natural/plant derived materials. It must have in place a program of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and be designed, operated and maintained to produce a naturalistic appearance, based on use of plants and materials native to the region, and patterns of landscape derived from and compatible with regional ecosystems.
Conservation Burial Grounds: in addition to meeting all the requirements for a Natural Burial Ground, must further legitimate land conservation. It must protect in perpetuity an area of land specifically and exclusively designated for conservation. A Conservation Burial Ground must involve an established conservation organization that holds a conservation easement or has in place a deed restriction guaranteeing long-term stewardship.
Taken from GBC’s website: http://greenburialcouncil.org/
More About Conservation Burial Grounds
Conservation Burial Grounds may be the preeminent example of green cemeteries, but they are by no means the most common. These are exemplary landscapes, beautiful places that have high ecological value. They are either large enough parcels to be considered landscape scale on their own, or they are contiguous with other tracts of conserved land. Third party oversight, via a Land Trust or other conservation group ensures protection in perpetuity, through the sale of development rights and easements.
Often these preserves are landscape mosaics, comprised of multiple natural communities and cover types. There may be mature second growth forest, regenerating forest, open field and meadow, scrub-shrub old field, and other cover types/habitats. Burials may occur in any of these locations where soil type, depth to bedrock, and hydrology are favorable to interments.
In a conservation burial ground, only some of the available land is used for burial. Proceeds from the sale of interment plots are used to protect and conserve the balance of the preserve. Juxtaposed with other conserved lands, these preserves can play an integral role in conservation, perhaps providing connectivity between conserved lands, or increasing the amount and diversity of local conservation parcels.
Photos from naturalendings.co.uk & arborytrust.org
By the way, both conservation burial grounds and natural burial grounds might include working lands where hay is cut, maple syrup produced, and/or timber is selectively harvested. The land might be managed to promote wildlife habitat, such as pollinator meadows, fields for grassland birds, early successional habitat for eastern cottontail rabbits, grouse and woodcock, etc. This varies from preserve to preserve, and is customized for each unique landscape.
Vermont has long been a leader in the fields of conservation and environmental protection. We’ve also led the country in areas of transformative social change. Vermonters are passionate about the land we live on and love, and about maintaining a holistic and sustainable social network. So it’s surprising that we are behind the curve on creating and offering viable green burial options for our people.
Traveling around Vermont and disseminating information about the topic, it’s clear that many Vermonters want a green burial option. Quite likely the first publically available option may be in the form of hybrid cemeteries. (Green burials have always been possible for private citizens creating burial plots on their own land, though the minimum burial depth of 5 feet has diminished its effectiveness). A few cemetery operators around the state are beginning to research how they can provide green burials in a section of their cemeteries.
Currently Calais Cemetery Commission has supported bill H.3, and wants to expand their cemetery to provide a green burial section.
Conservation Burial Grounds are also in the works. These preserves are more complicated to start, as they require the creation of entirely new burial grounds. This involves both logistic and funding challenges that will take time to work through. For this reason, hybrid cemeteries that are already existing, permitted, and funded may come ‘online’ before conservation burial grounds.
If you’d like to know the status of the Conservation Burial Ground efforts, are interested in supporting the creation of a Vermont Conservation Burial Preserve either financially, or with donated services, please contact us at Carl Anderson here, or Michelle Acciavatti here, or on this site here email@example.com.