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A Guide to Scattering Ashes in the UK

One of the most common questions that we receive is ‘how should we scatter ashes?’ Once you have received the cremains of your loved one, this is the next logical question. While some people do choose to create timeless ashes memorial jewellery, keep the ashes in an urn or other memorial vessel in the home or interred in a cemetery vault, many other prefer the idea of scattering them somewhere meaningful to the deceased. But can you scatter ashes anywhere?

We have compiled this extensive guide in order to answer the most commonly asked questions about scattering ashes in the UK. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will do our best to help.

Where Can You Scatter Ashes?

There are three main kinds of places where people wish to scatter ashes – on private property, public property, and in scattering gardens.

  • Private Property – In the UK, you are permitted to scatter ashes on any piece of private property, providing that you have the permission of the land’s owner.
  • Public Property – You are permitted to scatter ashes on public property. In the case of National Trust and National Parks, you do need to seek permission in advance. Get in touch with the specific property you are interested in.
  • Scattering Gardens – Scattering gardens are becoming increasingly popular alternatives to scattering ashes on public or private property. They are tranquil gardens designed with the express purposed of having ashes scattered in their grounds, serving as a place for loved ones to visit in a peaceful, dedicated setting.

Methods Of Scattering Ashes

Before you begin the process of scattering your loved one’s ashes, there are a few key pieces of information that you should know. Cremains are not fine ash. In fact, they also include pieces of crushed bone that does not break down in the actual cremation process. These cremains will not be uniform in size, and their varying shapes and sizes can upset those who are not prepared for the sight. Some of the cremains will be as light as dust, and will carry on the wind. However, some are coarse and heavy, and they will fall immediately onto the ground or water. Choose a location that is suitable for both outcomes.

It is also important to note that any professional you hire to help you spread the ashes should be reliable, trustworthy and experienced. A pilot, drone operator or sea captain manning the vessel you are using should have a lot of experience with scattering ashes, and they should be well-versed in local laws.

Casting Ashes – This is the most common way to scatter ashes. From anywhere that you can stand and move your arm, you cast ashes into the wind. Make sure that you cast the ashes with the wind, to ensure that they do not blow back into your face. Cremains can have sharp edges, and can be an irritant if they make contact with eyes or skin (not to mention that this can be upsetting). You must also ensure that no one else is downwind.

Trenching Ashes – You might choose to bury your loved one’s ashes into a shallow trench, covering with earth, and then placing a marker on top. While some people choose to place the ashes into a bio-degradable urn, others prefer to leave things natural and simply place soil on top. This is the most similar option to a traditional burial. Another trenching option occurs near the sea. People make a trench during low tide, place the ashes inside, and then wait for the high tide to wash them away to sea. This is a peaceful and meaningful process for the family to witness. Make sure that you bring suitable tools with you, and if you wish to lay down a marker, be sure that it is substantial and won’t blow or float away.

Raking Ash Scattering Services – Some people prefer the idea of raking ashes into the soil. Once scattered on the ground, the cremains are then raked, allowing them to break down quickly and help fertilise the soil. When you are choosing a location to rake ashes, make sure you have a general idea about the land’s future uses. You don’t want to come back to this peaceful park next year only to find out it is now a paved lot.

Water Ash Scattering Services – People all over the world choose to scatter ashes in water, from the Ganges in India to the Cornish Sea. While some simply stand on the shore, other hire a captain and vessel to go further afield. Remember – some of the ash will sink below the surface immediately while other elements will float for some time. You also need to pay attention to the direction of the wind, just as when you are on shore. If you don’t want to deal with potential blowback, consider a water-soluble and environmentally friendly urn.

Aerial Scattering / Drone Scattering –You can hire a company to use a drone specifically desired to carry and scatter a set of ashes, and the event can even be filmed. The sky is really the limit, and your loved one can be spread across a wide and far area of beauty, or a landscape that meant a lot to them.

Aeroplane Scattering – This is another less common option, but for some people, it is the right choice. Services are available that specialise in spreading ashes over a large area of land or water.

Rules / Laws / Regulations Regarding Scattering Ashes

  • Is it legal to scatter ashes? Yes, in the UK it is legal to scatter ashes – we have very relaxed laws compared to some other countries. If you are scattering ashes on private property, you must have permission of the owner.
  • Can you scatter ashes in National Parks? Yes, you are usually given permission to scatter ashes in National Parks across the UK. However, you do need to seek permission in advance, and agree to leave the natural environment in the same way that you found it.
  • Can you scatter ashes at sea? Yes, in the UK you can scatter ashes at sea or in rivers and lakes. However, the Environmental Agency would like you to keep the following points in mind.
    • While the ashes themselves do not have much of an environmental impact, please do not scatter any personal items that are not also biodegradable. For example, flowers are fine, while plastic wreaths are not.
    • Please choose a location away from buildings, marinas, places where people might be swimming, or fishing spots.
    • Scatter the ashes more than half a mile upstream from anywhere where water is collected. Unsure of this? The Environmental Agency can help you to check.
    • Scatter the ashes low and close to the water’s surface, and don’t do this on a windy day. This prevents the ashes from blowing about and impacting those who work or live in the area.
  • Scattering ashes for Catholics – As recently as 2016, The Vatican has specified that Catholics should bury or inter, and not scatter, their loved one’s ashes.

Transporting Ashes

  • Can you carry ashes on planes? The short answer to this question is yes, but remember that every country has its own laws, and each airline has its own policies. You will normally need to show the death certification and certificate of cremation. You will also need to contact the airline to find out if you can carry the ashes in your hand luggage or checked baggage. You might also need to decant the ashes into a non-metallic container for the x-ray process.

Poems and Quotes Suitable For Ashes Scattering

When you are scattering your loved one’s ashes, you might choose to read aloud a poem, quote, verse or psalm. Some people also choose to play a song that meant a lot to the deceased, with Kansas’s ‘Dust on the Wind’ being a very poignant and popular choice.

Think about the kinds of poetry, songs and verses that your family member, spouse or friend enjoyed, and choose something that they cherished in life. If you prefer to choose something more related to the ashes scattering ceremony itself, have a look at this link for a wide variety of choices that fit the experience well and that others have used for funerals and interment.

Summary

While this is certainly a solemn and important experience, knowing the rules and policies around scattering your loved one’s ashes will make the process more peaceful. Remember, while the UK is vey relaxed about scattering ashes, it is always a good idea to ask permission in advance when choosing a park, garden or other private setting.

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