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Home Daily Life Death and grief Scattering someone’s ashes: everything you need to know

Scattering someone’s ashes: everything you need to know

In the UK the vast of majority of people opt for cremation these days; and most then go on to have their ashes scattered at a favourite location, a beach or in the garden for example.

To date there has been no way of recording the location or the event of scattering someone’s ashes for posterity. In fact, research published by Scattering Ashes, suggests that around 7 million people in the UK have scattered ashes with no recorded last resting place, a situation that has not occurred since the middle-ages.

The culture of scattering ashes has been growing since people started removing ashes from the crematoria in the early 1970s: this combined with the fairly relaxed laws in the UK has meant there has been no control.

In this guest blog, Richard Martin, founder of guides you through everything you need to consider to scatter the ashes of a loved one in the UK. 

Can you scatter ashes anywhere you like in the UK – is it legal?

Yes, within reason, the main requirement is the landowner’s permission.

If this is your own land it is fairly straight forward, but if it was the local farmers land for example then you would need to ask them. 

Scattering Ashes of a loved one in the UK

There are certain big landowners that have a stated position on this. Organisations such as the National Trust can be quite accommodating, as can English Heritage.

However, there are certain sites off limits such as Stonehenge. Then there are other organisations where it is a flat no, such as the Woodland Trust or the Royal Parks, often with good reason: the Royal Parks are popular and often in built up areas, so allowing this would cause problems with others users of the sites.

Other land owners may wish to prevent scattering ashes for environmental reasons, such as the Ben Nevis Trust where the large amounts of ash deposits have led to an imbalance of the fragile eco system on the mountain. 

You can however scatter ashes on water without permission or a license as long as you follow some basic rules.

Basically no metals, or plastics (including scatter tubes are they are not water soluble). 

Guide to scattering ashes in the UK

It is always worth planning in advance.

  1. Wind is the most common issue, the winter months are windier, hilltops, bridge and cliffs also almost always have a breeze. So, keep the urn close to the ground.
  2. You will need to think about the location for a number of reasons: will you want to revisit and if you do make sure that will be possible; whether their remaining spouse will want their ashes going there; the distance travelled to reach the location, if you need to take an elderly relative don’t choose a location half an hours walk up a mountain.
  3. Think about what you will do when you scatter, do you wish to hold some sort of service, say some words or poems. A little planning can make all the difference
  4. Lastly, record the event, it might not seem essential at the time, but someone’s last resting place helps to tell the story of their life, adds respect and is essential for family history.

Other useful considerations

Overall, one piece of advice is doesn’t rush. Often there are very different views within a family about the speed after the cremation that this has to be done. It is when it is comfortable for everyone not just those pushing for the ‘now’. Because when it is done there is no way of undoing it.

On this very point there is the option of splitting the ashes, whilst some are fervently against this (presumably because they see the ashes as one entity), others will be comfortable and we think this can work out very well often people want different places in which to remember someone particularly if there are step-families. Our point is that you never entirely owned that person in life so why should that be the case when they die.

Also, there can be angst in ‘releasing’ the loved one – a final act of separation.

It is often worth holding a little of the ashes back to prevent this separation. 

The ashes can be either kept in a little pouch or incorporated into some form of keepsake, whether that be jewellery or glass – these can act a touchstone for those grieving.

One last thing is the weight, if it is the first time you have scattered ashes you will be surprised by the weight, they will weigh around 3KG/6lbs., so choosing to carry them over a long distance can be an issue, it also means there is a lot of scattering to be done.

Often in a movie or soap opera you will see someone scattering a handful of ashes and that being the end of it. This is not the case, so please be prepared to scatter over a wide area. Because, firstly if ashes are concentrated in one place, they can have a detrimental impact on the soil, making in quite alkali. The second point is that after the ceremony you don’t want to leave this special place with a conical pile of ash, it is unsightly and will impact the enjoyment of others using this special place.

Remember, the ceremony is for you: whether you chose to do this with nearest and dearest or wider friends and family. Whether you choose to send them up in a firework or off the side of the boat. The choice is yours and with thought you can feel confident about celebrating the life of that person you love.

The Ashes Register

Lastly, record it. It never occurs to people at the time to because ‘they know’, the problem is people’s memories distort, landscapes change and people forget and what was once a beautiful place for memorialisation is lost, often within a generation. This is why the Ashes Register was created, this service is free and available to everybody to record where they scattered, buried or stored the ashes of a loved one.


What to do when a loved one dies

Scattering the ashes of a loved one is just one of the many tasks that you will need to consider.  You can find checklists and all sorts of useful information to make this difficult time easier.  

Richard Martin is the founder of Scattering Ashes, which is full of practical information on all aspects of scattering ashes.  He also set up the Ashes Register. 


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