Ashes – to scatter or not to scatter

Ideas and rules of scattering or keeping ashes

Having lost someone dear, many people feel compelled to hold onto their ashes forever more. Others like to retain for a certain period before scattering in the deceased favourite place or somewhere the living family regularly visit. For others, it is a matter of urgency to ‘set them free’.

Needless to say, there are no set rules but there are some restrictions that should be considered when planning a scattering.

Legally, ashes have the same status as a body/remains. So, no court of law will consider making a ruling for ashes to be split up amongst relatives. So, it is important that the ‘holder’ of the ashes is confident that it was the wishes of the deceased that they should be.

An informal arrangement between relatives and friends is quite permissible so that a token scattering can be made elsewhere. These sorts of conversations are fraught with danger and family ‘fallouts’ and probably best avoided.

Cremated Ashes

Things you can do with cremated ashes

  • Scatter them… One popular option is scattering a loved one’s ashes in a place where that person loved to be: a forest, the ocean or at their home. …
  • Bury/inter them. …
  • Store them at home. …
  • Build a reef out of them. …
  • Plant them. …
  • Turn them into a tattoo. …
  • Help them go out with a bang. …
  • Send them to the moon.

The UK is fairly relaxed about the scattering of ashes but as with everything else there are some basic rules.

  • If it is desirous to scatter the ashes onto privately owned land the owner’s permission must be sought in all cases. It is rare for an owner to deny permission except where it is considered that the ashes maybe detriment to the area. For example, the 18th green at Wentworth will probably be a firm no! Football, Rugby and Cricket pitches are a popular consideration and at an amateur level especially if the deceased was a player is usually consented. However, because of the huge fan base surrounding Premiership clubs it would be considered unworkable and detrimental to the playing surface. Permission will be denied.
  • There are no laws regarding the scattering over water in this country, rivers, lakes or the sea. Having said that Environmental Agency do like to be made aware by courtesy. They also control the coast up to five miles out……beyond that feel totally free.
  • Quite often what we consider to be public ground is not, here are the organisations and agencies that allow scattering:

National Trust England and Wales – states: “The National Trust does not have a formal policy on this but is happy to consider requests on the basis that there are no environmental problems (ie. possible contamination of water courses or sources, no accompanying permanent or indeed ephemeral markers), that it is not against any wishes that may have been expressed by a donor [of the property], and that the act of scattering the ashes is done discreetly and in private with no interference with others’ enjoyment of a property. We would also not expect that visitors to the property could see any visual presence of ashes. If these conditions can be met and subject to local arrangements being made with the General Manager or Property Manager at the appropriate property, consent can be granted.”

National Trust for Scotland – states: “The Trust has no formal policy which would cover all situations across the wide range of properties that we have responsibility
for in Scotland. The Trust is respectful of peoples’ wishes but must have regard for a wide range of issues including the environmental impact on soils, plants, rivers and streams.” 
Broad guidelines are available to Trust Managers and any proposal or arrangement for the scattering of ashes or any associated ceremonies should be discussed and agreed with individual property managers beforehand. If proposals are deemed acceptable, the advice given may include specific locations and appropriate times of day with regard for other planned events and consideration for other visitors. For the avoidance of doubt, there would be a presumption against the erection of any sort of memorial, however temporary.

English Heritage – states: “It is possible to scatter the ashes of friends and loved ones at our properties if you can contact the property in question in advance and speak to the manager to arrange this. It will be an out-of-hours visit, or, if this is not possible, then during usual visiting hours. There may be an extra charge, for example, if there is an extra staffing cost involved, however, this would very much depend upon each individual site and the managers for those sites would be able to advise further. You would not need to be a member of English Heritage to arrange this. This would apply to all sites, including Stonehenge. It is not possible to scatter ashes within the Stone Circle itself, however, it is possible to scatter in other areas of the site. Similar restrictions may apply at other sites with regard to where on the site it is OK to scatter, however, this will also depend upon each individual area and can be arranged with each individual manager.

War Graves Commission – states: “Interment of remains in a designated war grave, owned by the Commission, is restricted only to the war casualty’s spouse, siblings or children. Once it has been established that the initial criteria has been met, those that wish to arrange for the interment of the ashes would have to apply to the War Graves Commission formally in writing. This correspondence would need to give the details of the casualty whose burial we record and the relationship of the recently deceased to that casualty.”

They make the point that the rules regarding the importation and interment of ashes vary greatly from country to country and, for this reason, they always recommend that, once the Commission has given permission, it is advisable to seek advice on the transportation of ashes, before making any further arrangements or travel plans.

Each case is dealt with on an individual basis. Please inform your future enquiries to contact the Commission first regarding any requests to inter ashes in a Commission grave.”

The Commission will only allow ashes to be interred. Scattering ashes at the grave is not permitted.

Those that say NO

Royal Parks: We would prefer that you don’t. These remains contain high levels of minerals and other elements which, over time, can sterilise the soil and leach into watercourses, disrupting the delicate natural balance.

The Royal Parks are Bushy Park, The Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent’s Park with Primrose Hill, Richmond Park and St James’s Park. –

Jane Austen’s House: While we understand many admirers of Jane Austen would love to have ashes laid here, it is something we do not allow.

Shakespeare House Museum: Unfortunately the trust that runs the properties in Stratford upon Avon has informed us that ‘[They] do not allow the scattering of ashes at any of the Shakespeare properties.’