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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Microchips sort graves from trees
Penwith Woodland Burial Place
Penwith Woodland Burial Place is using new technology
New technology is helping people return to nature when they die.

A Sussex company is marketing microchips to mark plots in eco-friendly burial sites, which have no gravestones.

And the Church of England, which opens its first woodland cemetery this weekend, is exploring a satellite positioning system.

By law, all burial plots have to be identified - but the sites' owners want to avoid visible markers because they look too formal.

Cornish burial site
Burial plots overlook west Cornwall's moors
Penwith Woodland Burial Place at Chyanhal, near Land's End, plants trees instead of laying gravestones - but not for every interment.

But that can make it difficult for families to find their loved ones, said John Lally, who created the woodland there.

He said: "We have a chart to tell us where the graves are, but that can go wrong.

Microchip on peg
Microchips are buried about 140mm down
"You must be able to go back - for whatever reason."

The microchip supplier's brochure is less coy, saying the electronic marker "reduces the risk of mistaken exhumations".

Woodland Burial Place is being supplied with 30mm chips, fitted to the head of a peg buried about 140mm below ground.

A hand-held scanner is used to detect the chip.

Stephen Laing, who runs Asset Track from his home in West Sussex, said: "You can put the nose of the scanner on the surface and pick up the details of the plot," he said.

Crumbling cemeteries

"That links in with electronic records."

Mr Laing foresees burgeoning demand for electronic grave markers.

He said: "The first woodland burial site was opened in the early 90s and now there's about 130 of them, offering burials for around 500 a time."

Hand scanner
A scanner reads details of each burial plot
Some people choose them as their last resting place because they are unhappy with the rigid rules of municipal cemeteries.

"The state of city cemeteries is so bad it is driving people towards the woodland option," said Mr Laing.

Others make the choice because they want to break away from the Christian-style of burial.

But churchgoers, too, are being attracted to the idea.

Christian burials

The Church of England officially opens its first woodland burial site next Sunday, 24 June, with thousands of trees and wild flowers replacing gravestones.

It has set up the Arbory Trust to run it.

Hundreds of Christians have made inquiries about "giving something back" to nature on the 40-acre site near Barton, Cambridgeshire.

A diocesan lawyer is drawing up rules to allow it to be consecrated, but the first few burials have already taken place.

Satellite positioning

The trust will mark each grave with a numbered metal peg, plotted on a map.

Names of the deceased are to be kept in a wooden memorial lodge.

Dr Matthew Lavis, diocesan secretary of Ely, has talked about plans for satellite referencing so the metal pegs can be removed, and the site made to look more natural.

But Mr Laing is sceptical about the idea.

"All you need," he said, "is for the Americans to scramble their satellites, and you don't know where you are."

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