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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Can you be buried anywhere?
With spring in the air and nature coming back to life all around us, Sunday 18 April is, fittingly... National Day of the Dead. So in keeping with the funereal mood, we ask: Can you dig a grave anywhere?

For the late Barbara Cartland - recognised as the world's most prolific novelist - it wasn't a plot in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner beside Chaucer, Dickens and Hardy that she most wanted as her final resting place.

Fast Show
"Spring. Green.... black. Death!"
When she passed away in 2000, a few weeks shy of her 99th birthday, she was planted in her back garden, beneath her favourite tree. Perry Como's I Believe played as her cardboard coffin was covered.

"People are always surprised to hear that it is quite a simple matter to bury someone on private land," says Michael Jarvis of the Natural Death Centre - organisers of National Day of the Dead.

In fact, provided you own the land, it is easier to bury a relative in your garden than to extend your garage or undertake any other building work. You don't even need planning permission to dig a grave, although erecting a gravestone might stir the interest of the local council.

The Environment Agency says that no laws prevent people being buried in their own garden, but an authorisation form must be filled in, since decomposing corpses can pose a health risk to the living.

A garden grave must be situated more than 10 metres from standing water, at least 50 metres away from a drinking water source, and be deep enough to dissuade foxes from digging up the dearly departed.

It's also necessary to record the whereabouts of the grave and include this in the deeds of the property.

Eco funerals

But garden burials still largely remain the preserve of deceased family pets, rather than deceased family members.

"Private burials are more the thing for people who have huge country estates in Wiltshire, than for people who live in a semi in Surbiton," says Mr Jarvis.

Charlie Dimmock
Dig deep, Charlie
If your garden isn't big enough to accommodate a coffin, or you fear that a burial plot will put off prospective buyers if you decide to move, there is an alternative to your local churchyard or council cemetery.

Graves can be sunk in any private land, although the landowner may need to seek permission to alter the use of the property.

So-called woodland burial sites have become popular with those wanting to carry through their environmental principles into the afterlife, since tradition plots are increasingly rare and cremation, Mr Jarvis says, contributes to air pollution.

You may even put something back into the environment if you are buried in a forest, under a meadowful of grazing sheep or even beneath an orchard of fruit trees.

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