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GOING UNDERGROUND: Chesterfield ‘green burial’ firm turning death into new life

The tranquility of The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.
The tranquility of The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.

A Chesterfield wood is being rejuvenated by a business offering customers the chance to end their days in its sylvan surroundings.

For prices starting at £200, the Woodland Burial Company can inter your ashes or mark your final resting place with a tree or a plaque.

Woodland Burial Company director, Simon Holden.

Woodland Burial Company director, Simon Holden.

For those willing to splash out a bit more, the firm will bury you whole or provide you a 1,200 square foot family plot complete with room for a dog.

But as well as offering a service to the dead, the business also hopes to provide an important boost to the land of the living.

Based in Stapleford, the venture is the brain child of former roadie, Simon Holden, who took the Derbyshire Times on a guided tour of the Matlock Road site last week.

“So far everything has been on pre-sale which is a surprise,” he said.

One guy has actually bought a plot and tends to the place where he will one day end up.

Woodland Burial Company director, Simon Holden

“I thought it would be the same sort of thing as happened with my dad - he’s been on the mantle piece for five years what do we do with him kind of thing.

“One guy has actually bought a plot and tends to the place where he will one day end up.”

“He knows he will be here for 200 years and he will always have his own private, separate place.“

“It feels a bit weird but he says he can’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be.”

Queenie the carthorse.

Queenie the carthorse.

Simon first got the idea for his unusual business from his dad Granville, who the wood is named after and is its first inhabitant.

“My dad used to walk the dogs through a municipal wood that was at the back of some playing fields where we lived.

“He went around collecting acorns and beech nuts, germinated them in his back garden and every time he took the dog out he took a tree with him.”

“He always said that he didn’t want to end up in the garden of remembrance,” he said.

The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.

The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.

“So when he passed away we decided to set something up which followed the same ethos of woodland rejuvenation that he had.

“It was just going to be a pet project and my mum said he would have loved it if you could make a business out if it.”

The wood Simon has bought with four of his friends is made up almost entirely of pine trees, planted years ago by a local landowner for the telegraph pole market.

This forest type, while beautiful, doesn’t provide a good habitat for animal life and as a result is almost totally silent.

As more people are buried there and more plots are cleared, the idea is that the woodland reverts increasingly to its natural state.

Fifteen per cent of the fee you pay goes into a trust which will preserve the site for at least the next 200 years.

Some of the pine trees that are being cleared to be replaced by hardwoods.

Some of the pine trees that are being cleared to be replaced by hardwoods.

Helping out in this process is Queenie the cart horse, who drags the huge logs out of the forest under the guidance of owner Stuart Freeman.

This opens up the canopy - letting in warmth and light so that the natural English woodlands can reestablish itself.

Importantly, however, she does so in a far less damaging way than modern machinery.

“It can take between 30 to 40 years to repair a tyre track,” says Simon.

“When the horse does it, it just digs up the top six inches and it actually encourages the seedbank that is underneath.

“It is almost Disney like - in the spring you see where the horse has been because it just blooms with different flowers than anywhere else.”

When researching the sector, Simon visited the Tithe Green Burial Ground in Nottinghamshire and the GreenAcres site on Merseyside.

If he finds success with the woods in Walton, he hopes to expand the business to four more sites across the East Midlands.

The actual process of interring ashes or burying bodies is a complicated one, as the disposal of human remains is, understandably, tightly controlled.

Simon uses a product on cremated remains which change them into a kind of fertiliser - allowing his customers to genuinely ‘return to the earth’.

However, because many people are so far buying the service in advance, Simon’s firm can apply for ‘full cadaver committal’ if people so wish.

He must, however, apply for individual planning permission for each body at the moment, but is hopeful that he can soon get the go ahead for multiple burials at the same time.

n For more information, visit www.woodlandburialcompany.com or call 0115 939 9030.

The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.

The Woodland Burial Company site off Matlock Road, Chesterfield.