Finding meaningful ways to honour a loved one’s memory can be an important step in coping with grief. Approximately three quarters of all funerals in the UK in 2022 were cremationsi, and deciding where and how to scatter a loved one's ashes has become increasingly important to a growing number of people.
Scattering your loved one’s ashes can help create a lasting memory for friends and family, but you must take into consideration how to scatter ashes safely and responsibly. This short guide is designed to help you navigate the process.
Is scattering ashes legal and where can I scatter ashes in the UK?
The rules relating to scattering ashes in the UK are fairly relaxed. You are largely free to scatter your loved one’s ashes on your own land, or over water, so long as you take environmental regulations into consideration. With private or public land you should seek permission from whoever owns the land. This could mean speaking with the local council, a church, or a private landowner.
Choosing a location to scatter a loved one's ashes
When scattering ashes, people generally choose locations that are meaningful to their family and friends, or that are culturally significant. Popular places to scatter ashes include:
● Family graves or church grounds
● At sea or from a river bank
● In public spaces like national parks
● In private spaces like the countryside or sports stadiums
Your choice of location should reflect the significance of the place and whether you will need to seek permission. It is also important to consider accessibility to make sure that it’s easy for others to visit the spot.
How to obtain permission to scatter ashes
For public places, including any land owned by local authorities or national agencies, you will need to get in touch with the details of your plans and intentions for the scattering. Many organisations and local authorities have advice available online.
For private spaces, contact the landowner. Many places such as national parks will have a process already in place for requests. For other places, you may need to explain your request in more detail such as specifying timing and the number of people that will be there to spread the ashes.
What are the environmental concerns about scattering ashes?
Scattering ashes is a way to return your loved one to the earth, but it is important to think about the possible impact on the environment. If you are scattering ashes over water, take care not to do it near a fishery, marina, or reservoir. In the countryside or a park, the chemical and mineral makeup of ashes can be harmful to plants; take care to scatter away from young plants.
You may also consider burying the ashes instead. According to Mountaineering Scotland, ‘[the] chemical effect on the ecology of the surrounding area is reduced if they are buried rather than scattered.ii’ Biodegradable urns are now available, however you should check the location’s guidelines on these.
How to mark the spot
After scattering a loved one's ashes, you may want to mark the spot with some form of memorial. These could include plaques or stones, a bench, or even a plant or tree. As with scattering the ashes, on public or private land it is important to get permission before leaving any lasting memorial.
There is generally no need to rush into a decision on scattering your loved one’s ashes. Most funeral directors will be happy to keep the ashes in their care until you are ready. It is better to take the time to choose the right place and time to create a lasting memory.