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Can You Scatter Ashes Anywhere in the UK?

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Scattering ashes in beauty spot

After a cremation, many families struggle to come to an agreement over where to scatter their loved ones’ ashes, particularly when the deceased left no special request for this. 

In this article, we take a look at the regulations here in the UK for scattering ashes and cover some of the most common ways to scatter a loved ones’ ashes. You might also be interested in our article "Ideas for Loved Ones Ashes - Lasting Memorials".

What is the Law on Scattering Ashes?

The UK laws on scattering ashes are quite relaxed but do require the permission of the landowner. 

If you are scattering ashes on your own land then there are no issues regarding this but, if this involves a waterway including lakes and rivers, you may need to obtain permission and seek advice from the Environment Agency. 

Where Can Ashes Be Scattered?

Ashes can be scattered on land, water and from the air and can include private land such as football grounds, parks and gardens as well as at sea, from a plane or even launched into the air. 

In all cases, you will need to get permission from the relevant owners of the land you are using in order to do this.

Can Ashes Be Buried on Private Land? 

If you decide to bury ashes, these remains become legally bound by similar restrictions to those you would need to follow if you were burying a coffin.

You will need to have the same permissions from the freehold landowner in order to bury the ashes of your loved ones and check to see if there are any covenants which could restrict you from doing so.

You will need to obtain a Certificate of Authority for Burial from the Registrar of Births & Deaths before the burial takes place. This will need to be completed and returned to the Registrar within 4 days of the burial.

You are also obligated to keep a burial register.

When burying the ashes of a loved one, you may wish to consider using a suitable waterproof container to keep them intact. 

You should also consider whether you will have access to visit the burial site in the future. If you choose your garden, for instance, how would moving home affect this? You are able to retrieve and remove the container but you will need an exhumation order to do so.

Can Ashes Be Scattered in a Churchyard or Cemetery?

Some cemeteries do not allow the scattering of ashes on family graves but may let you inter them with an existing grave with special permission.

As an alternative, most churches have specific areas such as rose gardens where you can spread the ashes of a loved one.

Can Ashes Be Scattered on Water?

Generally speaking, there is no reason why you cannot scatter ashes on water but there are some rules and guidelines that should be observed.

Inland waterways are the responsibility of the Environment Agency and it is advisable to check with your local office before scattering ashes on water. You will need to be sure that there is no drinking water supply nearby and ceremonies should remain private and discreet. 

If there is fishing, boating or swimming activities then always make sure your scattering does not impact on those around you.

Scattering ashes at sea does not require any permits but, if you are doing so within five miles of the shore then it is always recommended to let the Environment Agency know.

Can Ashes Be Scattered in Public Places such as at National Parks or Beauty Spots?

It is the final wish of some people to have their ashes scattered at their favourite beauty spot. From hillsides and parklands to mountain tops and woodlands, this can be a beautiful way to commit the remains of your loved one to nature.

Most trusts and national parks do not forbid the scattering of ashes on the land which they manage but most do request that ceremonies are held privately and discreetly and that ashes are not scattered so as to cause any environmental damage or nuisance to other users of the land.

Some places like Kew Gardens in London allow one scattering per day and you will need to obtain a permit to do so. The National Trust, Woodland Trust and Ben Nevis are all places where public scattering ceremonies are permitted.

Can Ashes Be Divided?

There is no law that prevents ashes from being separated and divided. This can allow you to incorporate the remains of your loved ones to be spread in different locations or committed to a lasting memorial. 

Dividing ashes is often a good way to prevent any disagreements between family members over how and where to scatter, inter or use ashes.

Some religions prohibit the remains of the deceased from being divided.

Best Ways to Scatter Ashes

There are four main ways to scatter ashes:

  • Ringing
  • Casting 
  • Trenching 
  • Raking

The most common way is casting which simply means throwing the ashes out at the location of your choosing. It is recommended that you check the way the wind is blowing before doing this to prevent the remains of your loved ones from being carried in an unintended direction.

Ringing is also a popular method to scatter ashes and people often use this method when placing the ashes of a loved on at the base of tree. It simply involves making a ring of the ashes around an object.

Raking is used to incorporate the remains of your loved one into the ground and may be used at the graveside of another family member (where permitted) or within a garden.

Lastly, trenching could be seen as a form of burial and may require you to follow due process (see ‘Can Ashes Be Buried on Private Land’, above). 

Ideas of Places to Scatter a Loved One’s Ashes 

Scattering the ashes of a loved one is usually done at a place that has some significance to the deceased and can be a favourite place where they walked the family dog to a special location such as a beach or mountain top overlooking a preferred holiday location.

Wherever you choose to scatter your loved ones’ ashes always ensure you do so in accordance with the guidelines given above and with the relevant permission from the landowner(s).

Some other suggestions of places to do this, include:

  • At a football ground or stadium
  • At a concert venue 
  • On a beach or at sea

Take a look at some creative and unusual ideas for storing your loved ones ashes...