An Angus natural burial ground has been named the UK’s best just a couple of years after being established on farmland north of Dundee.
Alma Kettles took a “leap of faith” in 2018 when she gave up an executive recruitment role in Edinburgh to establish CairnBrae on land near Kellas Wood which her family has farmed for four generations.
The Association of Natural Burial Grounds has now named the Duntrune haven as the nation’s best.
Alma said she was particularly honoured because the accolade is based solely on feedback from families who have laid loved ones to rest in one of the growing number of natural burial grounds around the country.
The recognition has come during a period in which Alma has witnessed the emotional distress wreaked at local level by the coronavirus pandemic.
And she believes some who have lost loved ones are clinging on
to cremated remains until restrictions lift so family members from other areas can travel to say a final farewell.
Alma said: “Walking away from a 25-year career to build and operate a natural burial ground was daunting and a huge responsibility.
“I wear multiple hats each day and days can be extremely long and labour intensive.
“However, with the help from my family, we have been able to provide the area with a more eco-friendly burial option for both coffin and ashes interments.”
There are now 72 memorial trees on the CairnBrae site, most of them over graves.
“The development of the woodland is now well underway with each tree acting as a living legacy to the deceased,” said Alma.
Business has experienced the effects of the pandemic
She also spoke of the Covid-19 effect on the business.
“A lot of families are postponing the interment of cremated remains until restrictions are lifted to allow family members from other regions to attend,” she said.
“Surprisingly, the restrictions on the number of mourners allowed at a funeral have proved to provide families with a much more intimate and less stressful experience.
“Families have been able to grieve with more privacy and I believe private interments will be something we see a lot more of in the future.”
“It can be quite emotional dealing with families who have lost a loved one to the virus,” she said.
“However, I am comforted by the fact that I have provided them with a peaceful and eco-friendly space to visit their loved one.
“Being surrounded by nature hopefully gives them solace and helps them to heal – perhaps a wee bit quicker,” said Alma.
What is natural burial?
Natural burial attempts to return a body to the earth in as natural a way as possible.
It uses bio-degradable coffins or ashes urns and generally avoids the preservation chemicals of the embalming process that can pollute the ground.
Woodlands, wildflower meadows and wildlife havens are developed around the sites.
Almost 30 years after the innovation of the first natural burial ground in Carlisle there are now around 300 sites nationwide.
Just over half are run by local authorities, the remainder operated by landowners such as farmers, charitable trusts and non-profit organisations.
The association said: “These awards are different to any other kind of assessment of green cemeteries, they are not about how sustainable each site is, the facilities that are available or the way the land is managed.
“The People’s Awards are all about the people involved.”