Okehampton Town Council will start negotiations with a local landowner with the view of purchasing land to extend the churchyard cemetery which the council expects to run out of space within the next few years.

At a recent council meeting, councillors decided to offer the landowner a valuation sum of £40,000 and send a pre-application enquiry about a change to the use of land to West Devon Borough Council.

Town councillor Christine Marsh said: ‘The cemetery we have got is running out of space and rules and regulations have changed. The spaces between graves has widened, we can’t put graves too near a hedge and we can’t put a grave too near drainage so we need more space.’

Negotiations are currently in the early stages and, if the purchase goes ahead, the land will be subject to land use risk assessment checks by the Environment Agency to ensure that any burials would not have any negative effect on public health.

Such checks would focus on the possibility of burials contaminating groundwater and water set aside for human consumption.

Current legislation states that human burials must also not be placed on ground liable to flooding or graves dug into unweathered bedrock. The base of the grave must be at least one metre above the annual groundwater level.

The negotiations come as the council estimates that the cemetery would be filled in approximately five years, based on the current average of 12 burials a year.

In opposition to a national trend towards cremations, All Saints Church in Okehampton, where the cemetery is located, has observed that there is a preference for burials among parishioners.

Reverend Stephen Cook, rector of All Saints Church, said: ‘There are far more burials. We are a long way from any crematorium. Obviously, if you have a funeral at the church and then go to the crematorium by the time you get back to the wake, the guests will be leaving. It costs quite a lot less to be buried.’

Okehampton Town Council, which manages the cemetery, currently charges £100 for a resident’s interment and £250 for a non-resident, though fees increase if an exclusive right of burial and additional services are bought.

This is in contrast to a survey by Funeral Guide, which provides information to help bereaved families and friends, estimating that the average cost of a cremation is just under £900 in the UK.

Although All Saints has seen such a trend, Rev Cook said that the church did not see a rise in the number of burials during the pandemic despite being prepared for an increase.

Statistics from the Cremation Society, a founding member of the International Cremation Federation which promotes and provides information on cremation, show that the number of cremations has steadily increased since 1885 when only three of 522,750 bodies were cremated in England.

This is in contrast to last year when over 80 per cent of bodies were cremated across England, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.