The Law and Permission
The law on scattering ashes in the UK is fairly relaxed. You can even scatter or bury ashes in your garden if you wish. There is nothing explicit in the legislation to restrict people in disposing of cremated ashes.
While the regulations may be on your side, the difficulty may come in gaining permission to scatter or bury ashes on someone else’s land. You should definitely have the landowner’s permission. And certain places are definitely off-limits.
One piece of advice: you are more likely to gain permission and less likely to be disturbed if you choose somewhere in the countryside or wilderness.
Local authorities: Local authorities don’t like people scattering ashes in public parks and gardens, especially in urban areas because the parks are relatively small and a lot of people use them. Also, if you wish to conduct a ceremony, it is unlikely that you will have the privacy or space that you need to make it a special event. That said, it may be worth trying your local authority to see if they can make an exception for a small ceremony in a secluded spot if you have a very good reason.
Faiths/religions: If the deceased had a faith, then it is worth checking what the religious implications are of scattering, burying or splitting the ashes. We have included a small section that covers some of the major faiths (Appendix I) but would strongly recommend speaking to the relevant local faith leader for a more comprehensive discussion.
Overseas: You may wish to scatter ashes abroad, so we have included a section about transporting ashes to help you manage the administration (Chapter Seven). Although it may feel like wading through a mountain of red tape, it is much better to have the various permissions you need ahead of any travel to ensure that it is as stress-free as possible.
Position of various landowners: The following organisations have a stance on scattering ashes. Check the relevant web pages for more specific requests:
Those that say YES, if:
Cemeteries/On a family grave – You may wish to scatter or bury someone’s cremated funeral ashes on the family’s grave. Not all cemeteries allow scattering and, if you intend to bury them, then you will need to make sure that you are the ones with the rights to do this. For example, if it is a grandparents’ plot, it is likely that a number of others may also have a right to bury there and space may be limited. Contact the cemetery owner in the first instance. In addition, if it is a church land (as opposed to council-owned), you will need to speak to the vicar or priest and please bear in mind that they may wish to conduct a service irrespective of your wishes as it is their land. Whilst this may not be the deceased’s belief system, it may be better to do this and have the occasion marked. Clergy can be reasonably accommodating and we would suggest that you ask them to find a mutually agreeable resolution.
Woodland Trust – is happy to let you scatter. However, they do ask that you do not hold any kind of formal ceremony in the woodland in question and do not disturb the ground in any way.
National Parks – This is dependent upon each individual park. North Yorkshire National Park states that: “There is no hard and fast rule. You should start by asking the person who owns the land on which you would like to spread the ashes”.
The National Parks’ authorities don’t actually own the land; they are similar to a planning authority. As they state: “Not ours – but ours to look after”.
In your own garden – As long as you own the property, this is absolutely fine. A word of caution: the house or garden may not always be in the family’s possession so, should grandchildren or future generations wish to visit the site, they may find it difficult or awkward.
Those that say NO or with severe restrictions, sorry:
Forestry Commission – does not allow ashes to be scattered on its land.
Peaks in Scotland and Wales – Welsh conservationists and The Mountaineering Council of Scotland have asked bereaved relatives to avoid the most popular sites and even to bury ashes rather than scatter them. They feel that it has a significant impact on plant life. It has been recommended that, when considering a chosen spot for the disposal of your ashes, people should avoid iconic mountain tops, by opting instead for a corrie, a certain point along a ridge or beside a particular tree on the lower slopes of a mountain.
Here is what the Ben Nevis Partnerships says: “While no attempt will be made to dissuade anyone from scattering human ashes on Ben Nevis, you should try to choose an area away from the summit cairn, and also away from the north face on which a number of alpine plants struggle to survive.”
Royal Parks – states: “We would prefer that you don’t. These remains contain high levels of minerals and other elements which, over time, can sterilise the soil and leach into watercourses, disrupting the delicate natural balance.”
A note: Scattering ashes and the environment
Many organisations state that they do not allow scattering for environmental reasons. Cremated ashes are rich in calcium and phosphorus that can affect alkalinity and act as a fertiliser. It depends upon the frequency of the scattering and the sensitivity of the environment as large amounts of ashes scattered in a sensitive environment will, in time, have an impact. However, we have found no evidence to suggest that occasional scattering in ordinary environments, such as a field or beach, is likely to cause any demonstrable negative impact.