First natural burial in Whakatāne six months after their legalization

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The first natural burial took place in Whakatāne district, six months after their legalization.

This section of bush along Hillcrest Cemetery has been designated as the site of the first natural burials in Whakatāne.
Photo: CHARLOTTE JONES / LDR

Community Experience of Whakatāne District Council Executive Director Georgina Fletcher said council staff felt privileged to be able to facilitate the first burial at Hillcrest Cemetery Natural Burial Grove.

“Those who were involved in its creation are grateful for helping to make this unique opportunity available to individuals and whānau,” said Fletcher.

“This includes the staff who helped through the planning stages, and the park and cemetery staff who prepared the grove with great care.”

The central principle of natural burials is to bring the body back to the earth for the benefit of the environment without the introduction of anything that would interfere with or pollute environmental processes.

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“The grove is the result of a partnership between the Whakatāne District Council and the non-profit organization New Zealand Natural Burials,” said Fletcher.

“The grove will eventually become a living memorial to those buried there, a home for native flora and fauna, and a beautiful place for family and friends to visit.”

Whakatāne councilors voted to allow natural burials in September last year after being urged to do so by the community.

When buried naturally, a body is placed in a shallow plot, in an environmentally friendly casket made of wood or soft, untreated cardboard, or in a shroud. The compost is placed with the body and a native tree planted on top. Eventually, the natural cemetery becomes a native bush and a permanent living memorial to those buried there.

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Natural burials are considered better for the environment because they promote rapid decomposition and absorption in the release of nutrients, while traditional post-death disposal practices are resource intensive and can damage the environment through products. chemicals from processes such as embalming.

Willetts Funeral Services facilitated the service for the whānau.

While the loss of a loved one is always painful, Whakatāne natural burial activist Jill Needham said great people can be buried however they want.

“It’s fantastic that the first one happened, nobody really wants to be number one, but now that this one has happened we could see more of it happening,” she said.

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“It can set a precedent and we could have more people choosing this as an option.”

The Whakatāne council set aside 50 to 100 natural burial grounds on the hillside of Hillcrest Cemetery.

It is an ideal place because it is tranquil with established flora and fauna.

It costs $ 3,035 to be buried naturally in Whakatāne District and people can choose from several native tree species to plant on their plot.

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest information service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Editors and NZ On Air.

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