The Environment Agency published an update to the guidance surrounding cemeteries and environmental permitting, which has since superseded all previous guidance notes as of 1st April 2022. This update is separate from the recent DEFRA review, which is yet to be published.
This document aims to provide our clients with a simple review of the major changes identified in the updated guidance and how these changes may impact the operation existing cemeteries with regards to the required minimum good practice groundwater protection requirements
Minimum good practice groundwater protection requirements
As of the 1st April 2022, the new guidance has set out an updated list of Minimum good practice groundwater protection requirements which all existing cemeteries undertaking burials with or without an environmental permit are required to follow:
You should not carry out any human burials within:
• a groundwater SPZ1
• 10m of the nearest land drain
• 30m from the nearest watercourse (which includes ditches and open land drains which may run dry for part of the year) or any other surface water
• 50m of any well, spring or borehole, irrespective of that water’s current use
• 250m of any well, spring or borehole where the water is intended for human consumption or used in food production
• areas identified as having karstic groundwater flow characteristics (following any required groundwater risk assessment) – these areas are highly vulnerable to pollution because groundwater can flow rapidly through the many fissures and fractures present in these rocks.
You should not carry out any human burials on land which is liable to flooding.
You should make the base of each grave at least 1 metre above the highest anticipated annual groundwater level.
You should not dig graves in unaltered or unweathered bedrock. This is solid rock which can be buried or exposed at the earth’s surface, and which has not been altered by physical or chemical reactions (or both) such as exposure to the weather.
Important Changes to note
Whilst a large proportion of the requirements set out above remain the same as the previous guidance documents there are a few significant changes which will have impacts on the operation of existing cemeteries.
- A significant change has occurred with regards to the requirement for a 30m non-burial buffer around watercourses, dry ditches and any other surface water features (such as ponds and detention basins). This will mean that the previous 10m non burial buffer around dry ditches and surface water features has been superseded and that a larger proportion of previously suitable burial land will be lost if the site is to comply to the updated guidance. Cremated remains can be placed in the non-burial buffer area and a redesign of site layout will be required to minimise the impact of the regulation change in regard to the number of burial plots and lifespan of the cemetery.
- The guidance now states that burials should not take place in land which is liable to flooding. This change to the guidance means that sites needs to be assessed for the following types of flooding to ensure that they comply with the updated guidance.
a. Flooding by rivers or sea
b. Groundwater flooding
c. Surface water flooding
d. Reservoir flooding
If areas of existing cemeteries fall within designated flood zones from the categories listed above, then burial should no longer take place in these areas. A redesign of site layout will be required to minimise the impact of the regulation change in regard to the number of burial plots and lifespan of the cemetery.
3. This requirement remains the same from the previous guidance and remains a key requirement in order to prevent burial contamination from impacting the underlying groundwater resources, particularly in areas where the underlying aquifers are sensitive. In order to ensure compliance with this guidance, groundwater monitoring across the burial ground for a minimum period of 12 months should be undertaken. Whilst the updated guidance has removed the previous statement of no burial to take pace into standing water, this should remain a key requirement.
4. This requirement remains the same from the previous guidance and continuous to raise questions about a large majority of burial grounds across the UK which undertake burials directly into bedrock. Chalk sites are considered to be the highest risk due to the potential for burials to take place directly into unaltered bedrock chalk, which is highly fractured and offers little protection to the underlying principal bedrock aquifer.
How can we help?
CDS have over 15 years’ experience in undertaking groundwater risk assessments for cemetery developments up and down the country, with over 400 undertaken to date. Our experience and expertise can assist our clients in ensuring that existing cemeteries are compliant with the updated minimum good practice groundwater protection requirements.
Where issues are highlighted due to noncompliance with the Minimum good practice groundwater protection requirements our in house team of designers and engineers can assist in undertaking a detailed assessment and redesign of the site to ensure minimal impacts to the operation and lifespan of the cemetery.
If you need any further assistance or clarification then please contact us.