The first Jewish woodland cemetery in the UK is set to open later this year, providing a greener resting place for environmentally conscious Jews.
The Jewish Joint Burial Society (JJBS), which serves 35 Reform, Liberal and Masorti congregations, has bought a field next to the existing Cheshunt cemetery in Hertfordshire to create the new facility.
JJBS chairman Mike Frankl said that members could now choose to be buried in "a natural environment surrounded by newly planted trees".
He said: "The burial can include a coffin made from bamboo or cardboard, which decomposes naturally, and instead of a large headstone there will be a small memorial plaque."
Work on paths and landscaping is shortly to begin, with plans for the first burials by the end of the year.
Mr Frankl said he believed that it would be the first faith woodland cemetery in the country.
Rabbi Paul Freedman, who represents Reform rabbis on JJBS, said: "The thrust of Jewish burial practice is to speed the return of the body to the ground. A biodegadable coffin is very much in keeping with the Jewish practice of requiring biodegradable materials and the emphasis on the coffin being modest."
Woodland burials exemplified the general mitzvah of responsibility for environmental care, he said: "Although headstones have been customary, the real requirement is simply to be able to identify the grave site.
"As Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel taught: tombstones are not erected for the righteous, as their words are their memorials."
The new site, which will cost around £1 million, will have room for 10,000 burials, adding to the 14,000 plots JJBS already has at the existing Cheshunt cemetery. It will consist of three sections: a woodland area for Jews, a separate woodland area for mixed-faith couples and a lawn cemetery for more conventional burials with double-depth plots and flat headstones.
JJBS is also building a columbarium at the new cemetery for the ashes of those cremated under Reform or Liberal auspices.
Mr Frankl said: "We will be able to offer a much wider range of services for our members, including those who want an environmentally friendly method of burial and also in separate areas for those in mixed-faith relationships who cannot be buried in the existing Jewish burial ground."