It was the first natural burial park to be opened in the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth area more than six years ago.

Now the team behind the Gunton Woodland Burial Park - one of the first in the country to be run by a non-profit making charity - is preparing for the next major phase of works.

The Gunton Woodland Burial Trust is set to expand six hectares of agricultural land into the existing woodland burial area.

It comes after change of use plans "from agricultural use to woodland burial park for the parochial church council of St Peter with St Benedict" were approved by East Suffolk Council under delegated powers last month.

As plans for a burial park were first mooted in 2009, the first phase of works centred around the development of a woodland burial park that was approved in April 2013.

With the Gunton Woodland Burial Trust formally registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in 2014, the phase one development scheme saw 7,000 British native trees planted on a 33-acre site with five glades formed in which the burials take place.

As the burial park is leased for 250 years to the Gunton Woodland Burial Trust, it opened to the public on January 1, 2016.

Back then, Barry Shimmield - a member of the trust, who was project lead for phase one - worked tirelessly alongside other volunteers to ensure the park opened.

And it was fitting that Mr Shimmield this week joined chairman of the trustees David Ferns, Steve Chilvers - trustee and project lead for phase two - and four staff members to mark approval of the next phase of works.

Delighted to have got the go-ahead, Mr Chilvers said: "Lots pf preparatory work just to get to this stage - including surveys, ground works, drone photos - has taken place over the past nine months.

"We have just got planning permission to extend for a further six hectares and now is the right time for us to do this."

With the expanded area to be used for the interment of ashes, these will take place within the seven newly created glades.

Around 6,800 native trees will be planted from the winter of 2023/24 - with the public encouraged to get involved - along with around 1,000 shrubs, while works to introduce five different varieties of plants within the hedging of the new development area is due to begin first.

A planning statement submitted by Lanpro Services to the council on behalf of the applicants, said: "The application site consists of a 5.9ha field with the applicant’s intention to undertake the planting works well in advance of the land being made available to the public for interments.

"This would result in a significant biodiversity net gain being established within the next one to two years and the woodland expansion area being semi mature before the interments would take place.

"The glades will cover 9013sq m; the woodland planting 33349sq m; scrub planting covers
9294sq m; hedge planting covers 1277sq m."

With the burial park's existing site access off Gunton Church Lane to be used for the second phase of the development an additional car park area will also be unveiled.

A report from a delegated officer at the council said: "The application is therefore considered to adhere to the local and national planning policy, and as such it is recommended that planning permission be granted subject to conditions.

"The Town Council have recommended approval, and no objections have been received from consultees or neighbouring residents."

It recommended that "planning permission be granted" subject to conditions, and in granting approval, a decision notice letter sent to the agents from the council stated: "Permission is hereby granted by East Suffolk Council with the following conditions."

The burial park enhances the natural environment "while creating a peaceful, forever resting place."