Published: 10:53, 02 February 2020
| Updated: 10:55, 02 February 2020
A lake set within a nature reserve could become the first in the world to offer an underwater burial site.
The owners of the Buckland Lake Reserve at Cliffe have secured permission to create what it describes as a "unique" opportunity for the ashes of loved ones to be built into statues which will sit on the lake bed and help create an artificial reef.
And the more irregular the statues used the better to help CO2 consuming weeds to grow and the fish in the lake to find shelter.
Buckland Lake is on the site of a former chalk pit and cement works and is already a popular attraction.
But after almost 20 years in charge, owner Doug Hilton is now looking for someone else to take over the running of the site and believes the artificial reef project could be both highly popular and potentially lucrative.
He explained: "We have secured planning permission from Medway Council for sailing, bushcraft, camping, cycle hire, canoeing and corporate entertainment as well as the burial reefs.
"I think the artificial reef could be very special.
"They do scattering of ashes in the Medway and the Thames, but the difference with us is they'll know where the ashes are.
"If you do ashes at sea, people don't like necessarily going on boats and it's reliant on the weather.
"On our lake, although it's big, and it can be windy, the waves are never that bad. So you can always get out there.
"We've got great facilities to go with it, the lake is deep enough but shallow enough to get the reef growth.
"In a standard graveyard you're not normally allowed any type of statue and I think a lot of people want something special. We would be able to provide that.
"The more irregular the shape of the statue the better the weed will grow on it and not just that, but it will provide shelter for fish and aquatic life so you get this whole reef starting to form.
"I think a lot of people will go down this route given the chance."
Off the coast of Florida the Neptune Memorial Reef has proved a hit with bosses there creating an underwater 'Atlantis' which includes colonnades and statues and allows divers to swim through sections where memorial plaques mark the last resting place of those on the site.
Adds Mr Hilton, who is moving to Wales to be closer to family: "They have gone into extravagant underwater layouts. People pay about £5,000 and if you wanted go go into one of the main lions that was £50k. And that's three miles off shore."
The plan for the Buckland Lake version - thought to be the only inland lake in the world to start offering the service - the ashes can be mixed into the plinths or form part of the statue moulds themselves.
He adds: "We'll zone the lake so areas for different religions and pets too.
"There's zero chance of vandalism as far as we're concerned and the statues will only help aquatic life."
With a recently built bungalow on the reserve, it is hoped an ambitious couple could take on the lease for the site and run the project to allow Mr Hilton to take a backseat.
The site already has facilities for fishing and watersports as well as a cafe and glamping operation.
Mr Hilton, 67, bought the site in 2001 and has been "building it up slowly" alongside his commercial property interests.
"Now we have all these different categories on the site, it is really essential we have an overall controlling body and they're on the site.
"If these other things take off the gross income could be very high."
Anyone interested in discussing the potential of running the site can contact Mr Hilton by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More by this authorChris Britcher