Find out what happens at a burial and the options for burial in a churchyard, cemetery, natural burial ground or on private land.

Forms required for a burial

The funeral director will usually deal with the paperwork on your behalf. When you registered the death, you should have been given a certificate for burial or cremation (green form), which you should pass to the funeral director.

If you are organising the burial yourself, you must complete the detachable section of the certificate for burial (green form) and return it to the registrar within 14 days of the funeral taking place.

You’ll also need to contact the church or local authority where you want your loved one to be buried to enquire about:

  • purchasing a new grave, or
  • re-opening an existing plot, in which case you’ll need the grave deeds.

They should give you a form (a notice of interment) to complete with all the relevant details.

What happens at a burial?

If there is a church service before the burial, most funeral services take about half an hour. Afterwards the bearers take the coffin to the burial site.

If there’s no church service, the coffin is carried direct from the hearse to the graveside, where there is normally a short service.

As the words of committal are said by the officiant, the coffin will be lowered into the grave by the bearers. This part of the funeral service normally lasts about five minutes.

Churchyard or cemetery?

A person may be buried in a churchyard, local authority cemetery or private cemetery. Anyone living in the parish has a right to be buried in the churchyard, if there is space. Churchyards that are closed for burials may still have space for the interment of ashes, especially if other family members are buried there.

Most cemeteries are non-denominational and will host services for a range of different faiths. However, some have areas dedicated to the use of particular faith groups or are traditionally used by people of certain ethnic backgrounds.

Your funeral director will know the local choices and will be able to advise on costs and other issues.

Graves and gravestones

Most cemeteries have different categories of graves. For example, some graves do not give exclusive rights to burial while others do. Some only give rights for a set period of time. Make sure you know what rights you are entitled to.

Each cemetery has its own regulations about what is available in terms of graves and the style of memorial that is permitted. There are a number of things to consider, some of which will influence the price.

Is the position important to you? Does it need to be near a main access point?

Will the cemetery sell exclusive rights of burial in a plot with a lease, say, of up to 50 years? If you’re concerned about the cost, the cheapest option is to ask for a plot without the exclusive right of burial. Bear in mind that such a grave will have several burials in it of unrelated individuals.

Do you want a memorial headstone? 

Many municipal and private cemeteries stipulate lawn graves only, meaning there will be a simple headstone in line with other headstones, and no kerbs or surrounds to interfere with mechanical mowing. Upkeep of memorial stones is often neglected – another reason why authorities prefer to stipulate lawn graves only.

Will the cemetery allow flowers to be planted on the grave? 

There may be other stipulations, such as the use of artificial flowers or other decorations, such as balloons or toys.

Who is responsible for the upkeep? 

In Church of England churchyards, for example, the family is responsible for looking after the grave in accordance with local regulations, and some dioceses insist on a financial contribution towards upkeep.

Natural burial ground

There is an increasing number of green burial grounds throughout the country, many of which take cremated remains. They are usually designed to be natural woodland or meadows.

Such burial grounds are carefully mapped so the location of each grave is known, and there are usually no markers or above ground memorials. Some sites mark the burial plots with trees – a choice may be offered of native species from the local area.

The owners of natural burial grounds are usually extremely helpful and many funerals are not traditional. Families create their own words and may use ‘alternative’ vehicles, such as a tractor-pulled trailer or a horse and cart to transport the coffin.

The only very strict rule is that everything placed in the ground must be biodegradable. This includes the coffin and any clothing the deceased is dressed in – and there can be no preservative treatment (such as embalming) of the body.

To find out more about green burial grounds, contact The Natural Death Centre .

Burial on private land

A burial can take place on private land, such as farmland or a garden, provided all the normal procedures of registration of the death have been completed. To organise such a burial, you’ll have to:

  • get permission from the owner of the land where the burial is to take place if it’s not your own
  • consult the Environment Agency, which will insist that the site is more than 10 metres from standing water and at least 50 metres from a drinking water source
  • ensure you’re a safe distance from any utility pipes or cables
  • ensure the top of the coffin is one metre below ground level
  • inform any individual or mortgage company with an interest in the property of your intentions
  • attach notification that a burial has taken place to the deeds of the property together with an accurate map of the location. This information may reduce the value of the property.

Related pages

  • What to do after someone has died: while there is no need to rush to do anything in particular when a loved one has died, there are a few necessities over the following days; read this article to find out what to do.
  • Arranging a funeral: there are many decisions to make when arranging a funeral and this article considers the key questions to ask yourself.
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of a loved one.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.