30 August 2002

Cemeteries no quick gain

By Andrew Shirley

FARMLAND burial sites have the potential to yield good returns (Land, June 21), but are not a licence to print money, according to two brothers who run the Brinkley woodland cemetery on the Cambs/Suffolk border.

Bernard and Gib Edge farm over 1300 acres near Newmarket. They opened their 33-acre site two years ago and have so far interred about 30 bodies with a similar number of plots pre-sold.

Inspiration for the venture came from Michael Thompson, a chartered surveyor with Stamford firm Scorer Clay Richardson, who has helped set up three similar schemes. "It came to me seven or eight years ago when I was talking to a client. I gradually warmed to the idea and came up with the concept of a wildflower meadow surrounded by trees."

Gib says he was initially sceptical. "I had to pick myself off the floor laughing but eventually realised it wasnt a completely daft idea. We were diversifying before it was popular and have always been conservation minded." The cemetery is run on strictly green principles with only bio-degradable materials allowed for coffins.

The cost of being buried at the cemetery is £350, with a further charge of £150-200 if the family of the deceased want to plant a tree or lay a small tablet in memory of their loved one. Reserving a plot for the future, known as an exclusive right of burial, is £200-250.

These figures give scope for a reasonable earning potential but the results are not instantaneous, says the farmer. "This is not an instant money earner.

"We have yet to cover the costs of setting up the business." These include starting a separate company to ensure the long-term future of the burial site. Running costs are also significant – paying a specialist to dig one grave can cost £150.

Mr Thompson says he doesnt believe farmers should go in for such a diversification project on a purely commercial basis. "People should be in sympathy with the concept."

Bernard agrees that it is not a business that would suit everybody. "You do have to be sensitive. The person you are speaking to may well be somebody planning their own funeral."

Time is also an important consideration, he adds. "A busy farmer would not have time. When the phone rings you have to give your customers attention then and there." &#42