A natural burial ground could be created near to one of the region’s most popular heritage attractions in a rural diversification project.
The Belsay Estate is seeking planning consent for the facility on agricultural land to the south of Belsay Village, off the A696.
It would cover 11.6 acres and would be capable of accommodating up to 500 burials per acre, but the estate says there would be a maximum of two a day, Monday to Friday, to maintain a peaceful environment.
After each burial a tree would be planted with a commemorative plaque, eventually creating a new woodland within view of Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens. The estate says the new planting would help to screen pylons from the heritage site.
Applicant Laura de Wesselow said: “It was about three or four years ago when I first looked into this idea. We were looking at the strategy for the sustainability of the estate and planning for the future.
“A lot of people hold Belsay quite close to their heart. They visit the Hall and Castle and enjoy it. Belsay is a key place for them, and I think a green burial ground is a lovely idea.
“Christianity is still important in our society, but people are not practising their faith on a regular basis and lots of people are looking at a multi-faith or humanist basis to their lives.
“Woodland burials have been around now for 20 or 25 years in a small way, but they are growing. Our churchyards don’t have huge amounts of room and people don’t necessarily know where their church is. Crematoriums can be pretty dour places so people are increasingly looking at green burial.”
Mrs de Wesselow says parish councillors have generally given a positive response to the plans, but she is aware that not all residents will support them.
“There are always going to be different views and nobody likes new things so I’m prepared for that. There are lots of opinions out there and I respect that,” she said.
“However, I think this will create a lovely new woodland and a place of reflection, peace and tranquillity for a lot of people.
“I think we need to embrace death as part of life and this is quite an interesting project.”
The facility would be managed by the Belsay Estate as a rural diversification scheme, with additional income contributing to the ongoing stewardship of Belsay.
It is expected that there would be between six to ten burials a week in the first five years. Access would be from a maintained farm track, and a car park would be provided for up to 30 vehicles.
A small building is also proposed to provide shelter for visitors in inclement weather, a place for reflection and an area for small ceremonies to take place. The burial ground would provide four part-time jobs, and the estate says that it would also give local businesses a boost, such as the village shop and Blacksmith’s Coffee Shop.
The county’s Building Conservation service has said the amount of parking spaces proposed appears excessive, but has raised no formal objections. Highways and ecology departments also have no objection, subject to conditions to ensure safety and the protection of wildlife, birds and the landscape. However, the Public Protection team has requested more information on field drainage.
Northumberland County Council is expected to determine the planning application.