EVERYONE in Scotland will have the option of a woodland burial within five years, experts predict, as a raft of new sites come under consideration for eco-friendly graveyards.

Scotland currently has seven woodland or natural burial sites, but this is set to rise dramatically in the coming years.

Glasgow City Council confirmed yesterday that it is to turn part of the land at a crematorium in the south side of the city into a natural burial ground as the first of three possible sites. From this summer, Linn Crematorium will offer a number of plots where trees will be used instead of headstones, with options of traditional, cardboard, eco-pod or willow caskets for burial.

It is believed the Western Necropolis in the city will be next for consideration should the Linn scheme succeed.

In addition, private company Native Woodland, which presently operates three woodland burial sites in Scotland: Delliefure in Speyside, Cothiemuir Hill near Alford in Aberdeenshire, and Hundy Mundy Wood near Kelso, is to apply to a further four local authorities in the next six weeks to open new sites near Dundee, Perth, Lanark and Inverness.

Ian Wells of Native Woodland said the firm is "desperate" to secure sites near Glasgow and west of Edinburgh, and is currently assessing 17 sites across the UK.

"There is a huge demand," said Wells. "In the next five years I think everyone will have a local' option of a woodland burial that they can access."

Wells said the concept of a natural burial is "very rapidly becoming mainstream now" and it is important for people to have access to local sites.

He added: "It is no easy thing to secure a site for woodland burial, due to the - rightly so - strict environmental regulations that are laid out to protect the water table, and assessments for sites can cost upwards of £25,000.

"However, there is clearly a demand for natural burials which we are trying to satisfy, hence the planning applications we are submitting in the next few weeks. As an example of the distance involved in some plots, at the moment we're selling plots in the Borders to people from Northern Ireland."

Native Woodland is planning a huge expansion outwith Scotland, with new sites planned for Northern Ireland and Europe. Wells is hopeful the firm can secure 50 new sites in the next five years.

Orkney Islands Council has also had talks with a natural burial operator, although they are understood to be in the pre-planning stage. Considerations are also being made by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) for a site in East Lothian after it gained planning permission from the local authority.

Mike Jarvis from the Natural Death Centre (NDC), a UK-wide body, said well-educated "baby boomers" will fuel demand for eco-burials in the future.

He said: "Scotland is catching up with the provision available in England at a rate of knots. I am expecting Scottish local authorities will provide an explosion of provision in the coming year to two years - there is a big generational grouping of baby boomers getting older that are going to want to have a woodland burial when their time comes."

Research by the NDC predicts that by 2010, 12% of the 180,000 burials that take place each year in the UK will be in woodland or natural settings.

Jarvis added: "In three or four years, I would say there will be in excess of 2000 woodland burials a year in Scotland, even more if local authorities close to urban areas such as Glasgow and Edinburgh open new sites up."

Friends of the Earth Scotland's chief executive, Duncan McLaren, welcomed the news. "It's amazing that this has taken off," he said.