Advocates welcome prospect of natural burials

Natural burial campaigner Jill Needham believes the Karaponga Reserve is the perfect place for a natural burial park. LANEY CHASE / STUDENT PHOTOGRAPHER

Long-time natural burial advocate Jill Needham is “very heartened” the council is considering a change to its bylaws to allow natural burials in the Whakatane district.

“It’s great they have put aside some space in the Hillcrest Cemetery for natural burials, that they are proceeding with the necessary changes to the bylaws and are looking to have natural burials in September."

Jill says action on natural burials had come a long way since she started advocating for them in 2014.

A long-time environmentalist, Jill doesn't want to be burned with the combustion of fossil fuels in a cremation nor have her body chemically embalmed.

“A natural burial is the ultimate act of recycling,” she told the Eastern Bay Life last year.

“There are no chemicals, varnishes, glues, mahogany coffins, gold-plated handles, spraying or mowing.

“The body is simply covered in a shroud or cardboard coffin, buried at about one metre deep and a native tree is planted. There may or may not be a small plaque.

“In a short time, the body decays and the tree becomes part of a native forest.”

However, she does acknowledge there will always be those who wish to be buried in a traditional way or cremated.

She's pleased the council is making progress in the natural burial space, but what has been achieved already is “not the ultimate”.

The Hillcrest Cemetery has only space for between 70 and 80 natural burials and Jill’s wish has always been to have a dedicated natural burial park separate from a traditional cemetery.

She and Bay of Plenty regional councillor Bill Clark, another natural burial advocate, will like to see Karaponga Reserve at Onepu transformed into a natural burial park.

The 138 hectares of land at the end of Symond Road, off Braemar Road, is an amenity reserve surrounded by native bush.

The council leases it out for stock grazing.

Jill and Bill plan to wait until natural burials have started at Hillcrest Cemetery, before going back to council with this request.

“It would be so easy for council to create a natural burial park there; it would be a flick of the pen for them as they already own it,” says Jill.

“All they would need to install is a stock-proof fence.”

Although she has not yet achieved a standalone burial park, she is pleased with the progress the council has made and how quickly it moved once it came around to the idea.

“We have made huge steps, there is a lot of support there.

“We are quite determined, and we won’t rest here.”

Council open spaces operations manager Ian Molony says for the council to change the status of Karaponga Reserve it would have to consult with the lessee of the property.

Following this, a report outlining the proposed change would need to be prepared and presented to the council for approval.

Should this be approved, Ian says the council would then be required to make an application and follow the process as outlined in the Reserves Act 1977 under section 24.

Jill says if anyone was interested in knowing more about natural burials, they could email her at

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