Community / Worth exploring alternative funeral and burial methods, celebrant says

A LOCAL funeral celebrant has welcomed a new study on the prospect of alternative services in Shetland including ‘water cremation’ and green burials.

Tom Morton said he felt Resomation, or water cremation, in particular could be a “really valuable and imaginative service to offer in Shetland”.

It comes as the Community Development Company of Nesting (CDCN) received the funding through Scottish Government to explore options for new funeral and burial services in Shetland.

The feasibility study will initially assess the provision of three core services: the building of a facility for water cremation, green burial sites and themed funeral and memorial ceremonies.

Study to explore potential for alternative funeral and burial services

Separately, community councils were consulted last year by the SIC on how to make Shetland’s network of burial grounds more sustainable in the future, with many graveyards reaching capacity.

Director Ellis Keith said an important part of the CDCN study was to avoid looking at options which would mean the development company competing with existing local businesses or services in the funeral industry.


Water cremation involves an alkaline hydrolysis process which takes around three to four hours and results in a pure white bone ash which is returned to the family.

The Resomation company said this is a less environmentally damaging process than flame cremations.

There is no cremation facility in Shetland, with the nearest on the Scottish mainland.

Green burials meanwhile are an alternative to traditional burials, and they usually take place in a designated area in natural settings instead of a graveyard.

Tom Morton.

The person can be buried in an eco-friendly coffin, such as ones made with wicker or bamboo, or a shroud, and embalming is not used in the process.

Morton said water cremation is “far more environmentally sustainable” than any form of cremation.

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“Although some people may find the whole concept a bit off-putting at first, it’s worth remembering that legal cremation is a comparatively recent phenomenon in the UK, first introduced in England in 1885,” he said.

“There was a great ideal of opposition to it at first.”

He also supported the idea of exploring green burials in Shetland.

“If a scenic site can be found with enough soil depth, there’s no reason this can’t be combined with modern video and telecoms technology to offer anyone across the world a final resting place for their loved one which is both environmentally friendly and accessible online for folk to pay their respects,” Morton said.

“Funeral services could also be held there and streamed, as has already happened in some churches, halls and cemeteries in Shetland.”

Another aspect of CDCN’s study is themed memorial services, with the idea of having ashes sent off in a burning Viking galley used as a suggestion.

However, Morton added that he understood that “Up Helly Aa enthusiasts’ ashes have already been sent to Valhalla with flaming galleys at certain fire festivals over the years”.

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