It was a bold move, when they passed the Sylvan Cemeteries Act (2026).
There had always been complaints from the Local Authorities responsible for cemeteries that they were running out of space. The old churchyards were almost all closed, now. The Victorian cemeteries of London, on the fringes of the suburbs when they had first been created, were now inner-city woodlands, populated with foxes and wildlife. And cremation had finally been recognised as the poor environmental solution it was.
It was the great London cemeteries that suggested the answer. And the vision that saw it was sweeping,
Across England, vast areas of land were designated for the new out-of-town cemeteries. But the bold move, in a time of great mobility, was to make these graveyards regional. Ten massive squares of land across the country - each the size of a small town. And all burials were to take place in these.
The dead were buried in their tight-packed plots, each with its own tree, and a spike with the deceased's name and a RF transponder and bar code to identify the plot. The small plastic spikes that held this information, each with its own photocell and tiny webcam, were the only non-natural objects allowed permanently on site. Each grave was centrally logged, to make location rapid when required - for a visit, or for re-use when a spouse had died. Flowers were composted a week after each funeral - and then banned forever. Spring bulbs and living plants could be put on the graves.
Visitors to the graves were allowed, of course - the network of gravel tracks, strewn with leaves in autumn and winter, gave access on the electric buggies that mourners could rent by the hour. But, to save frequent travel, the webcam allowed each grave to be watched from afar, as it slipped into its woodland peace under the spreading canopy of trees.
Each cemetery could expect 3 million visitors per year for funerals alone - plus the regular visitors to the graves. And so each cemetery developed its own suburb - by the gates were the chapels, with designated, beautiful places of worship built by each of the faiths and the Humanist's Goodbye Centre. Near to them were the Premier Inns, the TGI Fridays, the halls with rooms of all sizes where wakes could be held. Further out were the filling stations, the convenience stores, the fast-food outlets and the strip joints.
As time went by, the trees were managed, of course - the appropriate ones removed to allow space for others. As the burials spread across the landscape, they gradually formed a wide canopy - felled or coppiced, to allow enough light in for the solar cells to continue their work. At night, under the woodland ceiling, the graveyards glowed with the eerie blue of the tiny LEDs in each identification marker - a forest of the spirits under the gentle sobbing of the trees.
At the end of 100 years, the graveyards were full. Each held upwards of half a million people. They collectively covered 300 square kilometers - an area a tenth the size of Rutland, but with - some said - more life.
And then the "renewal" began. Area by area, starting with the oldest parts, low banks were built around the cemeteries, the trees were felled for timber, three feet of soil was taken up, and the process started again - the dead of the next century were buried just above their predecessors, firstly under construction spoil and then under the old topsoil.
And so it went on, five successive centuries of re-use until the Great Cold came. Some blamed the attempts to cool the climate having gone too far. Others said it was the Earth's natural cycle. Either way - the snows lingered into June, the crops failed, and the population fell sharply as people moved to warmer countries or died of hunger, cold or illness.
As the ice sheets grew, so the sea withdrew. The North Sea became once again a marshy plain. Wolves and bears spread across from Northern Europe. As their oppressors became weak across the continent, and the odds tipped in their favour, once again they roamed the British Isles, terrifying those humans that remained.
And those fugitive humans reverted, in the cold, to the old ways - hunting deer and rabbits through the forest, foraging fruits and fungus, trying a little desperate agriculture as the days lengthened and the snows melted. Sometimes they would walk around the ruins of the great towns of their ancestors - wondering who "John Lewis" was, and why he needed such a large house, or reflecting that the McDonald clan had seemed to live everywhere. They would reflect that their ancestors had been god-like in their power, and yet pathetic in their fall.
But they never went into the Forests of the Spirits - neither by day nor by night. No matter how desperate their hunger, or tempting the chase. They would kill no living thing, nor walk among those mourning trees. Some said those forests still shone blue at night, though not as brightly as in the time of the ancestors. But few ever went close enough to see.