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Save Southwark Woods campaigners have today written to all Southwark councillors to highlight the benefits of urban forests and woods and the effects that chainsawing hundreds of trees and clearing cooling woodland would have for Southwark residents.
Yesterday was the hottest day of the decade, with temperatures as high as 34 degrees.
Southwark council want to chainsaw 10 acres of high-quality woodland and wooded areas, and excavate hundreds of historic graves and memorials, to make way for 4,800 burial plots at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries - Southwark Woods.
But London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe and Southwark, yesterday baking in the heat, is one of its poorest and most polluted boroughs.
Sadly, every year, thousands of people in London die early from air pollution and heat stress – over 200 in Southwark alone in 2014. This year, ClientEarth took the government to court and won, to force them meet EU controls on city air pollution. Southwark Woods is in an Air Quality Management Area.
To help cool the city and improve air quality, the Mayor’s office and the GLA have set targets to expand tree cover to 25% of London by 2020 – only 5 years away. That requires rapid action. Not the kind of action that Southwark council propose with chainsaws for hundreds of trees.
The New Scientist last week published an article on how important woods and countryside are to people's immune systems, as opposed to manicured lawns. As James Barber councillor for East Dulwich points out, "if we want better health we need more Southwark Woods."
Before the General Election, Labour pitched itself as ‘the party that will protect nature’. Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle pledged to protect forests, accusing David Cameron of overseeing a decline in the natural environment.
However, Labour-controlled Southwark don’t appear to be listening – either to their own party or to thousands of their own citizens. As with the 450-tree forest on the Heygate Estate, the council has failed to assess Southwark Woods for all the free benefits they bring to people, nature and the city. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone...
Southwark Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Anood Al-Samerai, seconded by Cllr David Noakes, has proposed a motion to refer the project to the Scrutiny Committee, for lack of financial detail, its impacts on lives in Southwark and the fundamental flaws in the so-called ‘public constitution’.
Every week, new supporters join the campaign. This week Guerrilla Gardener and urban forester Richard Reynolds, London mayor hopeful Zac Goldsmith MP and community activist and author Donnachadh McCarthy all pledged their support.
Southwark residents are appalled at the council’s plans. The Save Southwark Woods petition, being presented to the full council assembly next week on 8th, now has over 8,300 signatories. It calls for Southwark to protect the woods and declare the cemeteries a 100-acre Memorial Park Nature Reserve, with respect for the dead and woods for the living.
Burial for all faiths who seek it can be provided for a fraction of the cost at Kemnal Park Cemetery, 6 miles from Southwark, as Tower Hamlets have done, protecting Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
Will Southwark listen, and exchange hot air for a cool breeze? Or will they ignore policy and public opinion and try to get the chainsaws out?
Southwark: Cutting Down Woods Makes People's Blood Boil
2nd July 2015
Cooling fresh air at Southwark Woods, at Camberwell Old Cemetery