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Natural burials a choice for families

24 July 2018

Oak Meadow natural burial site at Mangaroa Cemetery in Hastings has room for 80 burial plots as well as space for ash plots, and the potential for extension if more space is needed.

The site was blessed this month, with the ceremony led by kaumatua Jerry Hapuku.

Natural burial sites were still relatively rare in New Zealand and this was Hawke’s Bay’s first, said Hastings District Council facilities manager Alison Banks.

Planning for the site at Mangaroa Cemetery started in 2015, in the wake of requests from families who wanted a natural burial option for their family members. The memorial wall, which will hold the plaques of those buried within the area, was erected last year.

“The process involves the burial of the deceased in the soil where their body is allowed to recycle naturally through the decomposition process. Something else that is different from traditional cemeteries is that there aren’t any headstones or markers on the grave itself,” said Hastings District Council cemeteries manager Isak Bester. Instead, a plaque is placed on the memorial wall and the siting of burial sites is recorded using GPS.

To best achieve the desired outcome, Mr Bester recommended using a shroud made of natural fabric and a natural wood backboard. Untreated wooden coffins could be used, however they had to be buried a bit deeper, which impacted on the decomposition process.

Natural burial sites are generally left to nature with flora and fauna flourishing over time. Oak Meadow has been sewn with mass wildflowers to encourage insects and birds. No grave markers or things like ornaments can be left at burial sites; nor can plants be put in by families.

The meadow has been designed as a place of reflection in a natural, beautiful and peaceful setting, said Hastings District councillor and Hawke’s Bay Crematorium Committee chairman Malcolm Dixon. “The seating area, which will be near the memorial wall, will be a restful spot to take some time and remember your loved one or even hold a small service, and a planted woodland walk around the space is a good way to take in the absolute beauty of Oak Meadow.”

Mr Bester estimates that it will be about 10 years before more natural burial room is required: “But you never really know how many people are going to want to be buried in this way. We will have to see.”

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Jerry Hapuku leads a blessing ceremony beside the memorial wall at Oak Meadow natural burial site.

Hastings has four cemeteries: Orchard Road, Havelock North, Puketapu and Mangaroa.

24 July 2018

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