An Existing Natural Burial Ground for Sale: with thoughts on how to mark a grave within the landscape

Lucy who is looking for land for the project found for sale an existing natural burial ground, near Strensham in Worcestershire  It was beyond our search area, but I went to have a look.  It’s 10 acres for £250k, so pretty expensive – but of course has the huge benefit of already having planning permission.


It seems to have been up and running since 2005.  Yet there have only been 30 burials there – i.e. two or three a year – which suggests it’s not been that appealing to people.  I could understand this, as the land didn’t have that much character to it, and didn’t feel that contained; it’s open on all sides to fairly mundane surroundings, just a nice glimpse of the Malverns in one direction. Also it is very near the motorway, and the constant background sound does feel intrusive; though despite that, to me the site had a distinct feeling of peace.


It works well logistically, with good road access.  This is one of the main issues in finding a site, we want somewhere quiet and peaceful and exquisite, yet with the excellent road access necessary to get planning permission.


It’s a woodland burial site – so it’ll eventually become woodland, with trees planted as memorials.  Natural burial grounds either go for creating new woodland, or wildflower meadow, or often both kinds of habitat on the one site.  On this site they had planted one tree per grave, and, it seems, had allowed people to choose whatever tree they wanted.  I saw birch, hazel, oak and gingko.  The problem here is that an oak needs a lot more space than a grave plot.  An oak tree planted there in 2005 had already run out of space and was jostling with its birch neighbour (see featured photo).  This is why many NBGs (natural burial grounds) have moved away from particular trees for particular graves.  One solution is to have a tree that is the joint memorial for a number of graves – with their names on a post, or on markers attached to the tree.  Or, to have an area of new woodland without graves where you can have an individual tree as a memorial – for a limited period of time.  As it’s just for a limited period, some trees can then be thinned out so others have space to grow tall – which is the normal process in establishing new woodland, but doesn’t fit well with attaching particular trees to particular graves: it’s unlikely that anyone will want it to be the tree marking their loved one’s grave which is the one felled to make space for others!

Grave marking at Strensham


Another way in which NBGs vary in how they ‘memorialise’ is in relation to grave markers.  The idea is to have the land become a natural habitat, so markers are biodegradable, normally wood.  Here at Strensham people could choose their style of marker, and markers were placed directly on the ground (see above photo.) Not a problem here on emerging woodland, but on one wildflower meadow site we visited (Clandon Wood,) they had to take up all the grave markers each time they mowed for hay – and then replace them all afterwards in the correct place – surely a recipe for disaster!  Some places go for a radical solution:  no individual marking of graves, no individual trees, no individual memorial at all – the whole landscape is a collective memorial to all those buried there!  This could, I imagine, require quite a lot of letting go – on top of the letting go that death already demands.


It was clear this land isn’t a good option for Tara Sanctuary – but as always when visiting a site, it created more clarity about what kind of site is going to work for us.

John Percival on Loss and Connection

Death may have no dominion but it makes its presence felt in many different ways, something I experienced from an early age. When I was 12, fifty years ago, my father died. On the way to his funeral, sat in the slow moving cortege car immediately behind my father’s hearse, I caught site of an unknown man stood on the pavement, watching. As we passed by, he took off his hat and held it to his chest. I’ve never forgotten that moment and the effect it had on me, grateful for this stranger’s acknowledgement and sensing, perhaps, the compassion that flowed from his simple action. 
My father’s early death was, and still is, a hugely impactful loss in my life. But it has also made me aware that reflection on death has the power to shine a light on actions and attributes, such as kindness and respect, which help connect and ground us in meaningful, far-reaching ways. Perhaps such reflection was in Mozart’s mind, when, in a letter to his ailing father, he wrote of death as, ‘this best and truest friend of mankind… the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness’. 
 I am interested in the Tara sanctuary and natural burial ground project, chiefly because of my wish to help develop more nourishing understandings of death and disposal than those often represented in our culture. I have been present at very traditional Catholic funeral masses as well as ‘organic’ pagan-type funeral celebrations, and it is the latter that resonates with me as more spiritually uplifting and memorable. A Buddhist inspired project such as Tara sanctuary has, I believe, the opportunity to help many more of us open to death as a unifying and edifying presence in our daily lives. 
John Percival


When we find our land, we’ll set up a proper fundraiser to raise the additional money we need.  We have put up a simple fundraiser page, as some people wanted to make donations already.
It’s here:
So if anyone is keen to give us money now, please feel free.  We got a £100 donation out of the blue the other day, without even putting this link out there.  Maybe some people look through the pages on this fundraiser site, MyDonate,  for things they might want to support!  Thanks to that unknown person for their generous support.

Embracing Simplicity with Haiku

I’ve been looking out quotes for this year’s theme for Buddhafield ( which is ‘Embracing Simplicity’.  Haiku are perfect for this, of course.  Here is one haiku and one other short poem from Japanese masters Issa and Ryokan, which relate to Tara Sanctuary themes of death and the preciousness of human life.
What good luck!
Bitten by
this year’s mosquitoes too.
What shall I leave
As a memento?
Flowers in the spring,
The hototogisu in summer,
Tinted leaves of autumn.
Featured Image is: Japanese Maple by Scott McCracken.  Flickr, Creative Commons licence.

Land Search Continues

Dayajoti and I, after a tip off from Lucy, recently viewed some land near Wotton-under-Edge.
It had 24 acres of arable land with some beautiful old oak trees, it was spilt into 2 enclosures, with views towards the Severn valley.
Unfortunately it had a well-esablished public foot-path running through it, was over-looked by a large property at the top of the the land and had a nosiy building site nearby, so is not the land for the Tara Santuary and Natural Burial Ground.

The Wild Edge of Sorrow

A couple of months ago I asked my facebook friends for any recommendations for inspiring books on grief, this one “The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller” was suggested a few times, so I brought it.
I am so pleased that I did !
This is an extraordinary book which spoke directly to me. Using beautiful poetic language it is a comprehensive guide for conscious grieving and insights into the nature of loss, including separation from community and nature and the importance of ritual.
It is the first time that I have ever felt inspired to write my own book summary just for myself to re-read some of the rich prose. 

Here are a few words from the book that I connected with :-

“Sorrow is a sustained note in the song of being alive.”

“There is some intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive.”

“Psychological moralism” places enormous pressure on us to always be improving, feeling good, and rising above our problems. Happiness has become the new mecca. This forces sorrow, pain, fear, weakness, and vulnerability into the underworld, where they fester and mutate into contorted expressions of themselves, often coated in a mantel of shame.”

“Silence and solititude invite us to pause, slow down and stop. We live in a highly extroverted culture in which everything is expresses and exposed. “ We are addicted to disclosure” and need to learn the skills of restraint, of holding close to the heart what needs our utmost attention.”

“It takes outrageous courage to face outrageous loss.”

written by Annie x

Training as a Death Warrior

It’s the time of year where Buddhists mark the death of the Buddha. All over the world people will have be having these ’Paranirvana Day’ events. It’s often used as a time to reflect on death and to remember loved ones who have died in the previous year.

Here is an interview with Siddhisambhava/jan Parker, who is leading the workshop ‘Death and the Only Beauty that Lasts’ which Tara Sanctuary is hosting on 1st and 2nd April (see Facebook page, under ‘Events’.) She describe what the workshop involves, the beauty of opening up to the truth of death, and how this work relates to Buddhist practice. If you’d like to come you do need to  book in advance. 

A message from Siddhisambhava about the video:

I hope everyone will find this interview thought prokoving. I want to add that it was an interview of one long time buddhist practioner (me) by another and stress – as I say on my website death page about my workshops – that my workshops are open to everyone, those of all faiths or none.

New Team Member – Lucy White

We are delighted to introduce a new member of the team at the Tara Sanctuary, our intrepid Land Finder – Lucy White – who has been charged with scouting out the perfect tranquil, scenic and geologically appropriate site for our proposed Natural Burial Ground and Retreat Centre.

Lucy has previously founded and run a retreat centre in Norfolk and consulted on the growth and transformation of several rural retreats in the UK and abroad, so she has a good intuitive sense of what makes a good site for a peaceful retreat as well as being happy to look at lots of maps and technical data online and buzz around the countryside chatting to locals and landowners.
The search is in the early stages but Lucy reports back on her experience so far as being “somewhere between Challenge Anneka and geography coursework!”

We look forward to sharing updates with you as the search progresses invite you to follow our journey and send any land leads to us to pass on to Lucy for investigation.

‘Dead Happy’ Show at Bristol Buddhist Centre

‘Dead Happy’ is a one-man show by Simon Lovat which the Tara Sanctuary team is putting on at Bristol Buddhist Centre on Fri 25th November 2016 at 7.30pm.  
Here are some excerpts from reviews:
“What I really admired was Lovat’s ability to manage a delicate balance of humour and sadness; one moment you’re laughing, and the next you want to cry.”
“An engaging and moving one-man show, performed with a beautiful lack of theatricality, Dead Happy is a carefully structured musing on death; a fictional autobiography…”
“This is fantastic theatre. From the moment he comes in the door and sits down in the chair you know you are in for a real theatrical treat. The acting is superb, and the script takes you across the world and back again to some beautiful evocations of the cemetery. He manages to show the beauty and the wisdom of his experience and it is never morbid. When he walks out of the door at the end of the show you will be breathless.”
The show will last about an hour and entry is by donation.  Afterwards there’ll be the opportunity to participate in a ‘death cafe’ – a chance to drink tea, eat cake, and talk about death.