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Conservation burials in Britain

July 2019: Population growth and rapid urbanisation means that demand for burial spaces that will exceed graveyard capacity within the next five years. A new suggestion is to re-purpose Britain’s infrastructure to create green burial corridors by allowing ‘conservation burials’ alongside roads, railways and footpaths.


British graveyards and cemeteries are rapidly approaching capacity and will likely run out of space in the next five years, necessitating a strategic initiative to identify alternative burial sites. Annual deaths are already in excess of 500,000 (80 per cent cremated, 20 per cent buried) and will rise with growing population and will be increasingly concentrated in urban areas. Public health experts are promoting re-using Britain’s infrastructure to create green burial corridors similar to wildlife corridors and allow ‘conservation burials’ under trees or bushes alongside motorways, railways or footpaths. This call arises amidst increasing concerns about adverse environmental and human health impacts of non-degradable coffins, and fluids or materials used during the embalming process of traditional/non-conservation burials.

Implications & Opportunities

Increased demand for burial spaces, calls for land expansion or re-purposing of existing structures. Creating green burial corridors along existing infrastructure could be linked to Britain’s initiative to plant 130,000 urban trees by 2022, reducing the number of burials in traditional cemeteries. Similar effects to gravestones could be achieved by using trees or bushes as plot markers. Re-joining linear wildlife and burial corridors with urban or peri-urban woods and forests could support the development of a strategic vision for green burial spaces and reduces potential competition for land use in urban spaces.  This resonates with a shift towards ‘green’ funerals with biodegradable regalia and coffins in woodland areas.


There is only limited data availability or applicable policy frameworks that allow the exact impact of creating green burial corridors. In light of this, the study should be seen as a theoretical study whose practical application requires further research. The cultural, and social implications associated with burial customs in various traditions have also not been explored sufficiently to determine if the proposals will find acceptance and support amongst the general public and groups still favouring burial over cremation. In addition, there are numerous legal and health and safety issues that would need to be addressed.


Ashton, J. (2019). Necropolis in crisis: housing the living is one thing, there is also a problem in housing the dead. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 112(7), 313–315. doi:10.1177/0141076819860091 

Allam, Z. (2019). The city of the living or the dead: On the ethics and morality of land use for graveyards in a rapidly urbanised world. Land Use Policy, 87, 104037. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2019.104037

The Telegraph. (2019). Bury the dead alongside British motorways, says public health chief. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.