In conversation with: Simon Holden of The Woodland Burial Company

Categories: Leadership and People & Places.

Understanding more about the Woodland Burial Company and the benefits of natural burials. This is the first in a series of Life Ledger conversations with people that are shaping today’s bereavement sector – republished here with permission.

LL: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to find yourself in the bereavement sector?

SH: I used to organise concerts and festivals, huge events. Slowly, I began to consider the environmental impact and when looking at the rubbish in a field after one very famous festival, my heart sank. Around the same time I was questioning my work, my dad died. He was a remarkable man and had spent his life trying to improve the environment.

When I was supporting my mum with his funeral arrangements, I was shocked at how bamboozled she had felt, and the things she had been signed up for. Most of which didn’t really suit my dad at all. He would have wanted to just be buried in a woodland, but that wasn’t an option on offer. So, as part of the Faunus Group, we created one! The Woodland Burial Company was born, and our first site is called Granville’s Wood in his honour.

LL: How did the Woodland Burial Company start?

SH: As I say, it was just with my dad. His plot was the first, and our values and ethos were heavily influenced by him. Lots of people in the industry said it wouldn’t work, but we have proved that it can. There have been huge barriers, but at every stage we’ve been able to overcome them.

The real start was in finding a suitable woodland.


LL: What is the main aim of the Woodland Burial Company?

SH: To restore a monoculture to a thriving native woodland, to provide affordable environmentally positive options and to offer an alternative, science-based solution, to the toxicity of death.


LL: What have been the biggest challenges faced by Woodland Burial Company to date?

SH: Getting people to understand the ways in which our practice is different from many others. To see the wider impact that we want to make and improve general knowledge about the industry. For example, people still believe that cremated remains are ‘ashes’ and therefore good for the earth, when they are actually toxic.


LL: What do you feel have been Woodland Burial Company’s biggest successes to date?

SH: I think our biggest success has come from the scientific research we have led; this groundbreaking work has meant the creation of two new companies under the Faunus Group. There is more to be done, and we continue to develop and innovate in this field.

On the day-to-day front, we are now a thriving business, paying a living wage to four extra staff. Having started from scratch in 2017, that feels a big success. Especially as we have managed to keep our values at every level of our business.

We have also created some great connections with local businesses and improved the knowledge of local funeral directors about environmentally positive choices.


LL: Where would you ideally like to see Woodland Burial Company in ten years’ time?

SH: We hope to expand into new sites, we have already added to Granville’s Wood, and have a site in Ireland in progress. Now the model has been proven to work, we are looking at how to replicate those unique features.

I want us to be at the forefront of science-based knowledge on the environmental impact of the sector.


LL: What do you feel is the single biggest issue currently facing the death/bereavement sector?

SH: Misinformation. There are a lot of innovative companies offering new technologies, but many of them are not thoroughly researched, and are only working with soft tissue disposal. While they may have the glossiest brochure, and the largest marketing budget, the information is not rooted in researched and evidence-based results.


LL: Which other organisations or individuals really impress you in the sector?

SH: I would say the ICCM and FBCA, being encouraged by governmental bodies to continue our research, to find alternatives to traditional cremation and burial, has been inspiring. Their awareness of the environmental issues is good, and their continued support for our development is powerful.

WBC has also worked alongside The Good Grief Trust – taking part in their Umbrella Day last year, to raise awareness of their work, and to encourage conversations around death and grief.


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