Sustainable burials & CNN

In April, CNN got in touch to ask if Musgrove Willows would like to feature in an episode of their ‘Call to Earth‘ series which was focusing on sustainable burials. Turnaround times were short. Filming was scheduled for the following week and the episode would air the week after that!

Our eco-friendly credentials

When CNN filmed, most of our willow had been harvested

As a willow farmer and weaver of willow coffins, we have long championed the benefits of using eco-friendly and sustainable coffin materials. Willow coffins are a great biodegradable choice and ours are 100% plastic free. Choose wooden toggles (rather than screws) to close the lid and every piece of the coffin will naturally decompose. Approved by the FFMA, they are suitable for burial, cremation and any woodland/green burial site. Perfect for sustainable burials.

Lights, camera, action

How the advancements in technology have changed filming methods. One person (the talented Ed Scott-Clarke) came to our farm to film, photograph and record. It certainly was a busy few hours for all of us. Ed was shown our willow fields and how boiling and steaming can radically alter the appearance of willow rods. (No fossil fuels are used in the boiling process.) A boiler has stood on our farm since Arthur ‘Sam’ Musgrove started cutting sticks for furniture back in the 1920s!

Willow being lowered into our boiler

Next, it was off to the stripping shed (perhaps not as exciting as it sounds) to see how removing the bark can produce stunning white willow rods. It’s a task that up until recently was done by hand. Willow rods used to be pulled through a metal brake to remove the bark. Specialist machinery has been bought and adapted to enable the huge quantities of willow grown on our farm to be processed more efficiently.

sustainable burials
Filming in our stripping shed

The willow is then washed with rainwater (collected in a multitude of huge tanks), quality checked, dried outside and carefully stored, all in a single day. White willow is extremely labour intensive and highly sought after.

Weaving eco-friendly coffins for sustainable burials

To get an idea of the scale of our operation, Ed walked among the long rows of willow rods which are dried outside on old telegraph poles. (The drying has to be carefully managed.) This is another process which has changed little over the years. Only the volume of willow and the number of telegraph poles have increased.

Our weavers then took centre stage. Demand for our willow coffins has dramatically increased since the first willow coffin left our premises over a decade ago. There are now 3 coffin workshops on our farm. Each workshop contains around 5 talented weavers who use our willow to make incredibly beautiful coffins. Some first joined us with little weaving experience. However, our weaving apprenticeship scheme has taught them the skills required to weave stunning coffins and ashes caskets. Successful new careers have been forged.  

sustainable burials
CNN filming in one of our coffin workshops

It may seem a little strange to say this about a coffin, but ours are beautiful to look at. Coffin customisation is certainly becoming more popular. Many of our customers are taking the opportunity to incorporate a favourite colour into a design. Our weavers recently made a coffin to replicate the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Pictured below.) Only natural dyes are used to colour our willow and all the hand dyeing is undertaken here.

Willow coffin

In the sustainable hot seat

The final piece of filming involved an interview with Managing Director, Ellen Musgrove. On a working farm this is easier said than done. With tractors constantly on the move, willow fence panels being made and coffin bases cut, noise levels can quickly rise. (And that’s without the weavers playing their music.) Ever the professional, Ellen ignored the numerous distractions to explain our ethos and heritage.

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Ellen preparing to be filmed

Ellen and the team are always keen to extol the virtues of willow, particularly when the crop has been grown in an environmentally friendly way. Musgrove Willows work closely with an agronomist to manage crop production and practice a carbon neutral policy. Ellen’s husband Mike is an expert willow grower and son Jack is following in Mike’s footsteps. Daughter Holly works in the coffin lining workshop.

A final thought

It wasn’t so long ago that a brightly coloured willow coffin being lowered into a woodland burial site would probably have been viewed as highly unusual. Now it’s becoming far more commonplace. There is something quite uplifting about laying to rest a loved one in a beautiful place.  Why not have a celebratory picnic in a woodland rather than a traditional wake in the back room of a pub?

If you choose to live your life in an environmentally friendly way, why shouldn’t you consider the impact that your burial will have? Giving back to a planet that we too often take for granted can only be a good thing. In years to come, sustainable burials may well become the norm. Musgrove Willows plan on being part of the sustainable story for a long time to come.

Watch the CNN episode on sustainble burials

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