Call for natural way to go
People who care for the environment while they are alive increasingly also want to care for it after they die. That means demand for natural burials is growing.
Natural burials allow conditions for speedy decomposition, and regeneration of a natural forest above the graves. Nothing is introduced that would interfere with or pollute environmental processes.
Plots are shallow and the deceased are not embalmed. They are buried in shrouds of natural fibre or coffins of untreated wood. The grave plots are filled with aerobic, organically active soil, over-planted with a tree native to the area, and the whole cemetery is gradually restored to native bush.
The grave’s location is recorded by GPS in cemetery records rather than with a headstone, although some natural burial sites also have a remembrance wall with plaques.
But if you want a natural burial in the Taupo¯ district, you’re out of luck. Currently the district’s three main cemeteries in Taupo¯ , Tu¯ rangi and Mangakino do not make provision for natural burials and the only options are standard burial or cremation.
Several other districts have already made, or plan to make provision for natural burials, including Wellington, Auckland, Carterton, Otaki, Nelson, Motueka, Hamilton, Whanganui, New Plymouth and Hastings.
Linda McGrogan and Jean Caulton want to change that, and they also want to raise community awareness of what’s involved in a natural burial. With natural burials becoming more popular, they hope to persuade the council to make provision for them in future. The pair have spoken to mayor David Trewavas and also hope to make a presentation to the Taupo¯ District Council’s Reserves and Roading Committee on the concept of natural burial.
The council says officeres are investigating the option.
Tu¯ rangi resident Betty Wheeler made a similar suggestion to the
Tu¯ rangi-Tongariro Community Board more than a decade ago but it was never acted on and Mrs Wheeler died in 2019.
Advocates of natural burial say the process is kinder to the environment and nourishes the earth, unlike traditional burial where the casket and body can take years to break down because of the lack of soil microbes at depth. The decomposition may also release chemicals in the process.
Alternatively, there is cremation, which uses energy and releases carbon dioxide.
Linda and Jean say eventually a natural burial area will become a maintenance-free area of native bush, where people can visit to enjoy the bird and tree life and remember their loved ones.
Linda says she has left instructions for her own children that when she dies a natural burial is what she wants. But because natural burial isn’t available in the Taupo¯ district at present, her body would have to be shipped elsewhere to be buried according to her wishes.
Linda and Jean say it would be up to the Taupo¯ District Council to decide whether to set aside parts of its cemeteries for natural burials, or designate some other area of council land, but natural burials are a growing trend, and local authorities are legally bound to provide the cemeteries their citizens desire.
As well as meeting with the mayor, the pair have also discussed the concept with Shawn Vennell of Greening Taupo¯ and the Tu¯ wharetoa Ma¯ ori Trust Board. They next intend to approach former Cabinet minister Dame Georgina te Heuheu and the board of Te Kotahitanga o Ngati
The pair say the beauty of natural burial areas is that they can be on hillsides if need be and don’t have to take prime flat land.
‘We don’t have somewhere in mind,” Linda says. “We don’t know whether the council will be for or against and it’s the council that has the say. We want to do whatever we can to influence them.
“It’s the way of the world, we are all being more environmentally friendly.”
Jean adds that at this stage they just want to get people talking about the idea - although she acknowledges some people are uncomfortable talking about death - and if they want to register their interest with no commitment, then that is also fine. She adds that others may also prefer a traditional burial or cremation and that is their choice.
Jean Caulton (left) and Linda McGrogan hope that rising demand for natural burials will persuade Taupo¯ District Council to set aside an area of land.