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This week, working with free neighbourhood app TiCL, SSW launched The Big Tree Count at Southwark Woods, starting with Camberwell Old Cemetery.
Southwark council want to develop these beautiful, biodiverse, old woodlands at the Camberwell Cemeteries for inner city burial space. This would mean digging up thousands of graves and felling hundreds of trees – neither of which they have consulted the public on.
Armed with a tape measure, a tree ID book and the TiCL app, these citizen scientists built a picture of woodlands steeped in history and natural beauty, mapping over 150 trees in less than 4 hours.
They revealed a historical and environmental treasure trove of trees. As well as mature Horse Chestnut, Hornbeam, Whitebeam, Holly, Poplar and others, volunteers recorded Ancient and Veteran trees, Oaks and Hawthorns over 400 years old, and possibly part of an Ancient Hedgerow. There is also a Wild Pear so rare it may be a ‘champion tree’ for London.
If verified, these woodlands may have extremely rare landscape characteristics for London.
So far, data on over 150 trees in the Old Cemetery has been uploaded, including trees that Southwark denies even exist, in so-called Area Z where the council wants to start felling first.
The Woodland Trust, who visited last week to verify recordings, has asked campaigners to map as many trees as possible both inside and outside the cemeteries, to build a picture of local history, potentially dating back as far as the 1500s.
Southwark’s Council Leader Peter John has denied that these are even woodlands and has called them ‘pretty ugly scrub’ and saying they are merely ‘overgrown’.
Yet Southwark has a Woodland Management Plan for them and they are Grade 1 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, largely due to their habitat rich in protected woodland species such as bats, owls and stag beetles.
The Forestry Commission defines woodland as at least 10% canopy cover. These woods are minimum 30% in the targeted so-called ‘Area Z’, and 80% or more across the rest of the woods.
Soon the Big Tree Count will map the New Cemetery too.
The council’s own Conservation Management Plan for the Old Cemetery states:
“3.9.3 The extent and density of tree cover within the cemetery and its contribution to overall tree cover in the locality is a significant asset and this is in part recognised by the Group TPO status which covers the whole site.”
But last week the council reduced protection for Camberwell Old Cemetery woodlands from a Group Tree Preservation Order for the whole cemetery, to a series of group and individual TPOs. These now protect only a small number of trees.
“The council has a duty to protect these historic and beautiful woodlands for the common good,” stated SSW spokesperson Blanche Cameron. “Why did the council not share their intentions during the Public Consultation four years ago? This is no 'landscaping adjustment. It would be a wholescale woodland massacre. We are extremely concerned for the immediate safety of these Grade 1 woods.”
These historic woods, part of the lungs of London, are imminently at risk.
As Southwark prepares to apply to itself for planning permission without public mandate, SSW is working fast to save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trees from the chainsaw, and thousands of historic graves from excavation.
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Big Tree Count News - Community volunteers map 150 trees, counts 300 more to save Southwark Woods
7th August 2015
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The Save Southwark Woods Big Tree Count gets under way