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Laws and regulations on scattering ashes in the UK

After a cremation, many families choose to scatter their loved one’s ashes in a location with a personal meaning or connection to the person who has died. Scattering ashes can be a wonderful way to pay tribute to someone's life and say goodbye in a unique way.

This guide will provide an understanding of the laws and regulations involved when it comes to scattering ashes in the UK, and what your options are should you wish to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a certain place.


Do you need permission to scatter ashes in the UK?

You are free to scatter cremation ashes anywhere in the UK, if you have the permission of the landowner. There are, however, specific environmental guidelines covering some locations, such as the sea, at a National Park and on a mountainside.

Here, we’ll look at some of the most popular places for scattering ashes, as well as some of the permissions or guidelines you may need to follow.


Where can you scatter ashes in the UK?

Scattering ashes in a cemetery, churchyard and natural burial ground

Scattering ashes in a cemetery, churchyard or natural burial ground is a very straightforward option. You (or your Funeral Director if you would prefer) will need to contact the cemetery owner and ask for permission to scatter ashes. Many sites have a dedicated memorial garden specifically for this.

You may also be able to scatter the ashes over an existing family grave, if you own the exclusive right of burial for it.


Scattering ashes on private land

If you have the permission from the landowner, there are no UK laws or regulations that state you cannot scatter ashes on private land. However, if the land is sold, the new owner may not be willing to let you visit the scattering site.

Similarly, if you’re the homeowner and choose to scatter the ashes in your own garden, you won’t need to ask for anyone’s permission before doing this. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you may not be able to revisit the site if you decide to move house in the future.


Scattering ashes on National Trust land

Although the National Trust does not have a formal policy on scattering ashes, many families have been granted permission to do so in the past.

If you would like to scatter your loved one’s ashes on National Trust land, you should gain written permission from the property manager. Permission is usually granted on the understanding that the ashes will be scattered discreetly, without leaving any grave markers behind. The property manager should be able to help you find an appropriate spot for scattering.


Scattering ashes on a mountain (or hilltops)

Scattering ashes on mountains and hilltops can provide beautiful settings for saying goodbye to a loved one. Although cremation ashes are not toxic, the phosphate in cremated bones can over stimulate plant growth if scattered in large amounts. For this reason, it is best to avoid scattering ashes on mountain peaks, where plant ecosystems can be quite fragile and choose a spot further down the mountain, and try to scatter the ashes over a wide area, not just in one spot.

If you're choosing to scatter your loved one’s ashes on a mountain, you should also bear in mind that famous beauty spots and climbs may have a lot of visitors so you may be unable to find a private spot to say goodbye. Mountainsides and hilltops can also be very windy, so it is best to stand upwind as you scatter the ashes.


Scattering ashes at sea, over a river, or on a lake

Unlike a sea burial, you don’t need a license or permission from a landowner. However, the Environmental Agency has some guidelines you should follow:

- The scattering site you choose should not be near any buildings, people swimming or fishing, or marinas
- The scattering site should be no more than 1km upstream of any abstraction of water. You can check this by calling your local Environment Agency office
- Ashes should be scattered as close to the surface of the water as possible and you should avoid windy days so that ashes do not affect people living or working nearby


Burying ashes

If you are burying the ashes in an urn, rather than scattering them, different rules will apply.

If you want to bury your loved one ashes at a cemetery or churchyard, you will need to contact the organisation in charge of the land. You will be required to sign a burial plot application form which is typically issues by your local council or cemetery. You will also need to purchase an ‘exclusive right of burial’. Many woodland burial sites also offer plots for the burial of cremation ashes.

To learn more about the process of burying ashes, including burying ashes on private land, see our guide to the interment of ashes.

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