Can you bury a body on private land? Your key questions answered

We recently had a very interesting case land on our desks! Without going into too much detail (and we assure you, there was no criminality involved!), it involved a body being buried on a private piece of land. There is certainly never a dull day in the rural sector, and it got us looking into the law and practicalities surrounding this.

Is it illegal to bury a body on private land?

Contrary to what may be popular belief, it is not illegal to bury a body on private land. However, a burial licence must be granted, and this generally isn’t a straightforward process, due to the considerations required before granting a licence.

How can you obtain a burial license?

An application for a burial licence on private land needs to be made with the local authority responsible for managing cemetery services in the area of the proposed burial site. Each individual authority may have a different process, but it will generally require completion of the relevant forms, payment of fees, and adherence to specific guidelines.

The local authority will need to consider various conditions as part of the application. This will include:

  1. Land ownership: Unsurprisingly, you cannot bury a body on common land or land owned by someone else. The land must be privately owned by the person making the application.
  2. Environmental considerations: The local authority needs to consider potential impact on public health, water sources and surrounding ecosystems. If a burial poses an environmental risk, then a licence will not be granted.
  3. Minimum distance requirements: the reason why it is generally not possible to bury a loved one in the back garden: private burials must be a certain distance away from the nearest dwelling. The exact distance can range by local authority, but generally will be 30 – 200 metres.
  4. Public access: Again, unsurprisingly you are not going to get a licence to bury a body under a public footpath, or if the burial will affect a public access.

What options are available for burying a deceased person in the UK?

Burying a loved one is an important aspect of the grieving process, and we all know that traditionally, in this country we would usually opt for burial in designated cemeteries or cremation, although there are now more options, such as eco burials, woodland and meadows. But if the deceased expressed a wish in their lifetime to be buried on private land, or if this is the wish of the family, then it may be a possible, albeit complicated process.

What’s the legalities for burying animals on private land?

Much more common of course is burying the body of an animal. Losing a beloved pet is never easy, and it is comforting to many owners if they can bury their pet on their own land. Burial of small animals like cats and dogs on private land is generally allowed without needing to consult your local authority.

For large pets, such as horses, you should consult your local authority before proceeding, as it is likely they will have rules in place regarding the burial of a large animal. Farm animals must be disposed of using an approved disposal method for fallen stock.

Environmental considerations should always be taken when buying an animal on private land, and in particular a burial near waterways or areas susceptible to flooding should be avoided, to prevent contamination.

If you plan to sell the land in the future, you may wish to disclose the presence of buried pets to potential buyers. This allows them to make informed decisions regarding any garden or building work that they undertake on the land, and, hopefully, they will respect the site’s significance, although it is unlikely that any access right to visit an animal grave would be granted by a future owner.

How Moore Barlow can help

If you are considering buying land where there is a grave, please get in touch; there are important considerations that we can help you with, such as checking that the necessary licence was obtained at the point of burial and advising on issues such as access rights for those who may wish to visit the grave site.

Contact our rural law team today