Down to Earth NI, a new community-led, environmentally aware burial project launched a share offer today in what it is hoped will become Northern Ireland’s first woodland burial site in County Down. Keynote speaker, Peter Owen-Jones, famous for bringing the successful BBC Around the World in 80 Faiths to our screens, is also an Anglican Minister and Director of a similar burial project in South East England.

The Community Benefit Society, Down To Earth, aims to raise £40,000. Minimum share investment starts at £800 for the purchase of shares to fund planning, site preparation and initial running costs for the woodland burial ground. 

 Rising demand for burials in Northern Ireland, limited space and the unavailability of burial plots in most areas makes the proposition to work towards the establishment of a woodland burial ground interesting. Although a new concept in Northern Ireland, there are currently some 250 sites across the rest of the UK and one in the ROI.

Reverend Peter Owen-Jones said, “There has been a huge shift in ideas regarding end of life ceremonies over the past 20 years. In the rest of the UK the demand for this type of burial is increasing year on year.” 

Adding, “There is no better legacy than being laid to rest in a woodland created for the purpose. The whole concept is positive for the environment and future generations.”

The Society aim is to create a new native woodland with memory and permanence locked into the native forest ecosystem. Down to Earth NI are not only interested in planting trees in a field but are determined that it will be a long -term contribution to the dignity of the funeral service and a responsibility to nature. 

Chair, James Orr said, “We are inviting people to join us as investing members. During 2014, over 200 people expressed interest or pledged their investment. We want to raise our start up finance only from members and supporters in line with the ethos of the Society.” Adding, “Down to Earth NI will be owned by the community for the community and importantly, is for all faiths and those with no faith. Everyone is welcome.”

Benefits for the community and the environment are numerous, but a gentle approach is planned, which will be unhurried, child-friendly and restricted to one funeral per day. Advice will be available with respect to suitable materials used in all procedures. But a total ban on non-environmentally friendly embalming and other toxic materials either buried or used in the process, such as formaldehyde, will be fundamental to the governance of the Society. This will make a considerable contribution to the reduction of local carbon dioxide emissions.  

At least seven acres of the first site in the Lecale area of County Down will be planted with one thousand native trees, two meters apart per acre. Looking ahead to future years, a celebration of life eco-build is envisaged for services, boasted by an ecological waste treatment system using reed beds for wastewater treatment and habitat protection. Plans for a separate woodland pet and animal burial site are also in the Society’s future projections.

Located through a GPS, individual plots will be only marked with a native tree, such as oak, birch, hawthorn or ash. Additionally trees of remembrance will be planted for those who desire a quite, contemplative place to remember a loved one who perhaps died in a past war or is buried elsewhere.

Where possible, Down to Earth NI plan to develop trade with Northern Ireland social enterprises that support the principles of ecological funeral provision. This includes coppicing, urn manufacture, coffin design, horse-drawn hearses, undertaker services, gravediggers, tree nurseries, shroud making and providers of catering and ceremony services.

Support for the development of Down to Earth NI and the issue of the share offer has come from the Building Change Trust through Cooperative Alternatives Community Shares, Ready! Project as part of a 3 year Northern Ireland wide project to support the development of community benefit societies in Northern Ireland raising money through community share offers.. 

For further information on Down to Earth NI or to invest in shares please visit downtoearthni.com