RESTING PLACE: Jill Needham and Bill Clark reckon Karaponga Reserve would make a beautiful resting place. Photo Troy Baker D8944-10

JILL Needham doesn’t want her final impact on this planet to be an unsustainable one.

She is now in her late 70s, so, despite her appearance of being as fit and healthy as someone half her age, the long-time environmental activist is aware that her years are getting toward their end. This hasn’t stopped her from looking to the future and how she wishes to be laid to rest.

Being burnt away with the combustion of fossil fuels for the necessary 800-plus degrees needed for a cremation doesn’t appeal to her. Neither does reserving a plot of land for eternity for her chemically embalmed remains to inhabit.

“Cemeteries are no longer sustainable,” she says. “I don’t like the amount of land they use.

I just felt there had to be a better option.” After doing some research about it she found out about natural burial.

Jill has been talking to Whakatane District Council about creating a natural burial park in the Eastern Bay since 2014. So far, to no effect. She first made a submission to the council’s annual plan in that year. She was duly thanked by the policy manager and there the matter ended.

“With each phone call came another dead end.” An article was written in the Beacon and only four people responded, which indicated to Jill that there was not enough interest in the proposal.

Fast forward to July of this year, and Jill made another approach to council, this time in the form of a five-minute presentation to a full council meeting outlining what a natural burial park is and how it works.

“A natural burial is the ultimate act of recycling. There are no chemicals, varnishes, glues, mahogany coffins, gold-plated handles, spraying or mowing. The body is simply covered in a shroud or cardboard coffin, buried at about one metre deep and a native tree is planted.

There may or may not be a small plaque. In a short time, the body decays and the tree becomes part of a native forest.”

Jill readily accepts that this form of burial is not for everyone.

“There will always be people who wish to be buried in the traditional way. There will always be people for whom cremation is right, and then there are the people who wish for a more natural resting place with no concrete or monument.

“There are currently 14 natural burial parks in New Zealand so council can no longer ignore the request.”

The short answer Jill says she received from the council after her most recent approach is that, in principle, the council was interested, but the problem is that there is no land available in any of the existing cemeteries in the area.

However, the idea caught the imagination of councillor Bill Clark, who has a great love for Onepu park and wetlands. Bill immediately saw a lot of sense in Jill’s proposal and suggested that the Karaponga Reserve could be the perfect place. The 138 hectares of land is an amenity reserve with a beautiful aspect of native forest. It is situated in Symonds Road, off Braemar Road.

“Everyone I have talked to about it thinks it’s a great idea,” Bill says. He says that although formal consultation with iwi is yet to be undertaken, individuals he has spoken to from Tuwharetoa kia Kawerau have liked the idea of “a natural return to Tane Mahuta”.

Bill has visited the reserve with a group of people from Edgecumbe Lions Club who have shown great interest and another group of at least 10 others are keen to help the idea become a reality.

A steering group, led by Jill, has been formed to ensure that a proposal is ready for the council’s annual plan in 2020. Jill says the group will also be contacting all mayoral and council candidates prior to the upcoming election to obtain their views on the proposal.

This group is part of a growing number of Eastern Bay people interested in natural and alternative burials that are environmentally friendly and cost effective for everyone. “The only cost to council for this would be a stock-proof fence,” Jill says.

Jill says she has been campaigning for environmental causes for many years. “I was very involved in the 1970s action fighting the power board to make sure the Rangitaiki River levels were not kept too low and I am an active supporter of New Zealand Forest and Bird and Soil and Health New Zealand.

Jill says her reasons for wanting to publicise her suggestion is to get feedback about how people feel about the idea of a natural burial park in Onepu. “Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks it’s a great idea. We really want to just put it out there and see what people think.”

Jill can be contacted by phone on 07 3228399 or by email at

What is natural burial?

NATURAL burial refers to the burial of a dead body in the soil in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition but allows it to be naturally recycled into the earth.

The body must be prepared without chemical preservatives or disinfectant such as embalming fluid, which destroys the microbial decomposers that break it down.

The grave does not use a burial vault or outer burial container that would prevent the body’s contact with soil, and should be shallow enough to allow microbial activity similar to that found in composting.

Some natural burial grounds are managed as part of conservation projects to restore the natural ecology while others use permaculture to maintain the burial area in perpetuity.

The practice is used in the United States, Britain and Australia and matches the methods used in many ancient and indigenous cultures.

The first natural cemetery in New Zealand was established in Wellington in 2008 and more have since been created throughout New Zealand.

There are now 14 natural burial cemeteries in New Zealand: they can be found in Wellington, Kapiti, Carterton, Marlborough, New Plymouth, Westport, Thames, Nelson, Motueka, Dunedin, Whangarei, Hamilton, Auckland and Invercargill.

To learn more about natural burials, visit