Savannah Valley District

Conservation Burial: Turning Your Haunt into Hallowed Ground

Amanda Taylor, Forestry and Natural Resources Agent

Land is a legacy, something you pass on to your children and your children’s children. Historically, when someone passed away, family members managed all of the affairs, including the care of the body. But somewhere along the way, we lost parlors in our homes, funeral parlors took over, and we were left with just the living room. With rising funeral costs and a desire to conserve land from future development, many Americans are exploring conservation burial. 

Ramsey Creek Preserve

What is a conservation burial? 

It is the ultimate act of conservation. Your body is buried without embalming fluids, in a biodegradable container, with no vault surrounding it. A traditional funeral leaves behind a bigger carbon footprint and is typically more expensive than a conservation burial. You can be buried on your own land this way, or you can be buried in a conservation cemetery, like Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster. Your burial makes the property hallowed ground, protecting it from future development.

You might have a lot of questions. Won’t these bodies impact our drinking water? Won’t a bear or coyote come along and dig me up? Is this even legal

A grave at Ramsey Creek Preserve

The answers to that are: no, no, and yes!

It is legal in the state of South Carolina for you to be buried on your own property. See South Carolina Code Section 40-8-10 to learn more about the laws surrounding burial. 

While we do have viruses and bacteria in our bodies, most become inactive within a few days of our passing. As we break down, our components are filtered through layers of soil and rock before ever reaching surface water. To eliminate this risk, it is common practice to bury human bodies away from bodies of water. When it comes to animals, they don’t see our bodies as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Despite most conservation burials only being 3 feet deep as opposed to the traditional 6 feet, wildlife digging up graves is not a common phenomenon. Even those buried without a casket are safe from animal encounters.

How do I do this on my land? After speaking with Kimberly Campbell from Ramsey Creek Preserve, here are some options that she invites landowners to explore: 

  1. If you currently have a conservation easement on your property, you could potentially be buried on that land. Contact the organization you have your easement through to see if this is an option. 
  2. Another option is establishing a private family cemetery. After having your county survey the land that you want to be the burial ground, the assessor’s office will officially designate the land as a private family cemetery on your deed. If your land does not stay within the family after a few generations, no worries. Under South Carolina preservation laws, your descendants have a legal right to visit and maintain your grave, even if they no longer own the land. Reach out to your county assessor’s office for more details.
  3. If you don’t have a good spot on your land, you can contact a green cemetery near you about your future burial plans. Search “green cemetery” or “conservation cemetery” in your preferred search engine. 
  4. You could also consider starting your own conservation cemetery. If the land you’d want to use is not under a conservation easement, you can start this as a commercial venture. Providing your community with a beautiful place to lay their loved ones to rest can be a rewarding experience. Look into the business licenses you would need and evaluate your risks and opportunities. Do you have roads in good enough condition for people to access the potential cemetery? Do you have time to do occasional maintenance around the gravesites?

While talking with Kimberly Campbell, she explained that Ramsey Creek Preserve’s goal is to maintain the land in its most natural state. Encouraging wildlife and managing protected plants like the Oconee Bell fit into their vision of allowing people to “go wild” when they die. Having a conservation burial is a way to pass on your legacy as a landowner, conservationist, or just plain tree hugger. As South Carolina continues to develop and inflation continues to rise, you may want to consider transforming some of your current haunt into hallowed ground.

New Life at Ramsey Creek

Want to learn more about conservation burial? You can check out the Conservation Burial Alliance website or contact a conservation cemetery near you. 

Looking to talk to someone about estate planning for your forest land? You can reach out to The Center for Heir’s Property or Agribusiness Agent Steve Richards.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status, and is an equal opportunity employer.