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Law & Permission

Scattering ashes at sea, on a river or lake is great way to give a loved one a really nice send-off and research suggests that those who scatter in this way find the presence of water, after that, very comforting.

Scattering ashes in the SEA – the law

If you choose to scatter ashes onto / into coastal waters or river then then you should aware that:

  • For the UK you do not need a licence to spread ashes in tidal coastal water. In coastal waters you will need to comply with Environment Agency Guidance. (see blow)
  • For the USA you need to go out three nautical miles and then inform the EPA – Guidance

For the UK: If the beach is in private ownership you would need permission to access. The Crown is the prima facie owner of foreshore, or land between mean high water and mean low water.

Environment Agency Guidance:

Meeting the needs of families and the environment

We are the Environment Agency. It’s our job to look after your environment and make it a better place – for you, and for future generations.

Your environment is the air you breathe, the water you drink and the ground you walk on. Working with business, Government and society as a whole, we are making your environment cleaner and healthier.

The Environment Agency. Out there, making your environment a better place.

Protecting controlled waters from the impact of funeral practices

Faith groups and individuals follow different traditions and practices when a loved one dies. For some this involves spreading the ashes of their dead in rivers and streams, others wish to bury their dead at home. We do not want to interfere with these traditions unless there is good reason. There is no evidence to suggest that either the disposal of human ashes in rivers and streams or home burials have a negative impact on the environment. But we are concerned that other aspects of these practices, such as casting tributes and other objects into the water at the same time as the ashes, could harm the environment or upset other river users.

This leaflet outlines our policy on preventing any harm to the environment as a result of funeral practices.

Spreading or Scattering ashes on water

Ashes themselves have little impact on water quality; other items should not be placed in the water with the ashes. Personal items and wreaths might contain plastic and metal parts, which can cause litter and harm wildlife. They must not be put into the water or left on the riverbank where they could be washed into the water.  Individual ceremonies to spread ashes are unlikely to pollute the water. But you will need to carry out the ceremony with care and check the following things first.

• The site you choose should not be near any buildings, people bathing or fishing, or marinas.

• Your site should be more than 1km upstream of any abstraction of water. You can check this by phoning your local Environment Agency office.

• Ashes should be spread as close to the surface of the water as possible and you should avoid windy days so that ashes do not affect people living or working nearby. If the site you have chosen is in regular use, we will need to assess it first to check there is enough water to disperse the ashes, that no one is using the water just downstream and that other river users are not going to be affected. Your faith group leader or undertaker should be able to tell you. If you are unsure if we have assessed a particular site, please phone your local Environment Agency office to check.

If the recommendations in this leaflet can be met in full, then you do not need our permission to proceed with your ceremony. If they cannot be met, you should contact us so that we can discuss possible alternative sites.



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