When nature takes over grave care

When nature takes over grave care
More and more people are choosing to have a burial in nature, says Steyregger forest manager Niklas Salm-Reifferscheidt.

No gravestones, no candles and no flower vases can be seen on the Pfenningberg area – only nature is the design element at the forest cemetery in Steyregg. For Niklas Salm-Reifferscheidt, forest and estate manager and former Count of Steyregg, it was never the intention to compete with the church and reinvent the cemetery. “I don’t want to be in the way of the church, but anyone who doesn’t want to lie in a cemetery today should have another option,” says Salm-Reifferscheidt, who wants to implement the Waldfriedhof am Pfenningberg project together with Linz AG. “The trend towards burials in nature is not yet so strong here in Austria, but in Germany it is becoming more and more common. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before it happens here too. And above all, it has people’s living situations have changed dramatically.”

Grave care in transition

Families used to be strongly rooted in individual communities, but today they are widely dispersed. “In the past, people grew up in one place and died there, so there was usually a shared family grave and, above all, someone who regularly looked after the grave. Today, relatives often live hundreds of kilometers apart – it becomes difficult to take care of the grave.” says the forest manager. “Many people don’t want to do that to their descendants.”

The area on the Pfenningberg, which is used as a forest cemetery, covers around ten hectares. People can choose the place where they want to be buried, says Salm-Reifferscheidt. “But what we avoid is that someone chooses a tree where they will be buried and where a plaque with the name of the deceased is placed. Because who knows how long the tree will actually stay there.” The urn is also provided with a clay plate with a serial number; the coordinates are known so that the exact location can be traced if necessary.

Cemetery as an industry

There is hardly anything in the forest itself that suggests a cemetery – only a large granite block commemorates the deceased whose urns can be found in the area. Ultimately, there should be a lasting memory, which is what the relatives and customers expect, says Salm-Reifferscheidt, who sees the forest cemetery as an additional economic branch.

“Unfortunately, forestry is going down the drain. Climate change is causing us problems, then there are also the increased costs of wages and machines, and of course the ecological approach in the spirit of nature. A lot of things are no longer done as industrially as they were a few years ago “Respect for nature also causes costs,” says the forest manager from Steyregg. For example, large-scale clear-cutting is no longer carried out; work in the forest is carried out on a smaller scale than before. In addition, foresters are coming under increasing pressure from the public – “Everyone wants to go into nature and every corner is used by those seeking relaxation. As a result, we foresters are also increasingly restricted,” says Salm-Reifferscheidt.

A large meadow on the edge of the forest offers a clear view of the Luftenberg. This view should also invite you to linger in the forest cemetery, says Salm-Reifferscheidt. “No fertilization, no artificial intervention. We only care for the meadow appropriately so that the meadow flowers continue to grow and do not block the view. Nature can do the rest itself.”

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