First natural burial at unfinished site

A Dunedin woman has been laid to rest in the new natural burial site in Waldronville, despite it not being officially open.

Council reserves and planning team leader Paulien Leijnse said although the site within the Green Park Cemetery was not ''officially open'', it was not ''officially closed, either'' and a woman was the first to be buried there, in late November.

The woman's husband had contacted the council when his wife was ill asking the council to ''hurry up'' and open the new burial ground.

The woman had been a ''voice'' in the submission process on the proposal for natural burials, which was a factor in the council considering his request, Ms Leijnse said.

The council had been on schedule to have the site ready by Christmas, but the access road had taken longer than expected.

When it rained, it could be challenging to get a hearse near the grave, Ms Leijnse said.

Council parks, recreation and aquatics manager Mick Reece said the council allowed Hope and Son to bury the woman if it agreed to do so in any weather conditions.

''They didn't hesitate.''

The council would allow further burials at the site before it was officially opened if a funeral director committed to completing the work, he said.

Hope and Sons managing director Michael Hope said he was not advising clients about the availability of natural burials until the site was officially opened, which he expected to be in April next year.

But if there was a similar situation before the official opening, he would take the work on and if the hearse could not get to the grave, he would arrange two sets of pallbearers to share carrying duties of the casket.

On the day the woman was buried, the hearse was able to get close to the grave.

The council had mowed a path to the site, which the hearse used, and the woman was buried in front of ''very close family'' after a funeral in South Dunedin.

''It was beautiful blue sky - a sunny afternoon.''

In natural burials, bodies are not embalmed and they are placed in untreated and biodegradable caskets within composted soil, on top of which native trees are planted. The GPS location of graves will be held by the council.

Earlier this year, the council called for submissions on a proposal to establish a natural burial site and associated natural burial protocols.

The 24 submissions received all supported the option of natural burial, although some suggested changes to the protocols.

A natural burial costs the same as traditional burial.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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