Just west of Cambridge city centre sits a beautiful place where you can be buried in the woods.
Barton Woodland Burial Ground is celebrating 20 years of life and death, and has just got a new lease of land, but many people across the county don’t even know it exists.
Like other woodland burial grounds Barton offers an eco-friendly service, as graves merge with the gorgeous green meadow land.
The site in South Cambridgeshire is maintained by the Arbory Trust charity and is nearing capacity 20 years since it was founded.
As we become more conscious of living sustainably, it’s no surprise that Barton Glebe has seen increasing demand.
Arbory Trust manager Sarah Mila said: “In 2000 it was basically just a blank canvas field.
“I don’t think the wonderful people who set it up realised how successful it would become.”
There were 161 burials and ashes interred at the site from January to September this year, compared with 145 in the same period last year.
Whilst coronavirus is sadly a factor in this year’s increase, rising interest in natural burials means the South Glebe has reached its limit of 1800 grave spaces, with only reserved spots remaining.
The North Glebe still has room within its 1600 plots, and Arbory Trust won planning permission last month to extend into another 10 acre top field, taking the site to almost 50 acres in total.
Sarah said: “We’re absolutely thrilled about that, because it means we can carry on for even longer, and create more beautiful places for wildlife to flourish.”
To tree or not to tree?
But if your dying wish is to be buried beneath a tree then you’ll need to look elsewhere.
At Barton people are buried in glades surrounded by trees rather than under them, for fear that trees could become diseased or struck by lightning.
The website also notes that “serious problems can arise if trees have to be dug out, and tree roots can also interfere with glades.”
For the site’s manager, a major reason why people can’t be buried under trees is to enable visitors to walk around all parts of the woodland.
Sarah added that families need to bear in mind that after 10 or 20 years trees will overgrow the grave.
Instead, people have the option of a simple wooden plaque to mark the spot – with all graves intricately mapped and microchipped.
What it is like to run a burial ground during Covid-19
In Spring the charity was preparing for the worst, but the increase in burial demand was not as significant as feared.
Sarah partly attributes this to people’s concern that they had to cremate loved ones.
“We are finding more ashes coming now from people who were cremated during that time,” she said.
“A few of the funerals we’ve had have been victims of covid, but not victims of having had covid.
“They were victims of circumstance: being in hospital without loved ones, not being able to get to the doctor, not actually going to the doctor with symptoms because they were scared to go out and then the worst happened.
“It’s very very sad. We get tragic stories.”
Wildlife returns to Barton
Sarah, 54, from Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, has family members buried at Barton Glebe, so knows first hand the peace that wandering around the flourishing meadowland brings.
Badgers, foxes, hares, muntjacs, kestrels, brimstone butterflies and honey bees are some of the many species that have returned to the site since 2000.
The land’s human visitors have forged special connections too.
“We now have a group called the Bramble Boys,” said Sarah, “who simply met by walking around.
“We’ve allowed them to use the lodge every Wednesday and they come in and have coffee and their book club.
“And they talk about their grief, and how they feel and they say it’s helped them beyond measure – it’s been a lifeline for them.”