France’s first woodland site for cremated ashes is open

Elia Conte Douette is working with local mairies on developing their woodland sites into cemeteries 

9 November 2020
By Connexion journalist

The first woodland site in France to be classed as a cemetery for urns of ashes is open for burials.

Setting up new private cemeteries is banned in France but a French lawyer says she has found a way to offer a legal alternative to current ways of burying ashes.

Elia Conte Douette said the key to unlocking restrictions came to her when she realised decisions about cemeteries are decided by local mairies.

Ms Conte Douette, a lawyer working as a consultant in sustainable development, realised she would have to become a funeral director to move the project along.

“By my having the diploma, the conseil municipal can work with me on cemetery projects,” she said.

She now operates funeral firm Cime’Tree, as well as a consultancy, Taoma, helping communes set up woodland cemeteries.

The first commune she worked with, Arbas in Haute- Garonne, has set aside a 1.25-hectare area of woodland in the Fontaine de l’Ours forest in the Pyrenees foothills. It has been declared a cemetery.

A panel marks the entrance to the area and gives rules such as no hunting allowed in the zone, known as the forêt cinéraire (ashes forest). However it is not fenced off and anyone can enter.

Ashes are placed at the foot of trees or in clearings in urns made of wood, linen or felt.

“We have not done any advertising but demand has been constant,” said Ms Conte Douette. “You do not have to have a connection with Arbas to use the site and one of the early cases involved the family of someone who had died in, and been cremated in, Angola."

'Most seem to be motivated by ecological considerations, but not all'

“There has also been a steady demand from people who are making arrangements for how they would like to have their ashes disposed of"

She is working with five more communes on developing their own woodland sites.

The price at Arbas is €375 paid to Cime’Tree (cime-tree.fr) to cover administration.

It includes accompanying of relatives in the wood, selection of sites, urn and arrangements for a ceremony.

In addition, the commune charges for a perpetual concession. Single sites are priced at €250, sites for two urns €500, places for five to 10 €1,000 or €2,000, or collective sites at €200 an urn, with each site accepting up to 10.

Legally, the crematorium has to put ashes in an urn, marked with the deceased’s name and the location of the cremation. Ashes can be kept at a crematorium for up to a year, while family decide how to dispose of them. Unclaimed ashes are spread in the nearest cemetery.

You cannot keep the ashes at home or scatter them in a private garden.

The options are:

  • Put the urn in a cemetery. It can go into a tomb, be put in a columbarium, be cemented on to a memorial plaque, be buried in a communal space for five years, or dispersed in a designated space at the cemetery.
  • Spread the ashes in the wild. They must not fall on a road or public space. If you scatter at sea, most communes require that a boat takes them 50m from the coast. Often the SNSM will help, for a donation.
  • Keep the urn in a memorial on private property.

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