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How much is a tree worth? Pioneering economic valuation of nature moves ahead in Southwark

10 January 2017

Yesterday, following discussions with the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries, Southwark Council agreed to assess the monetary value of the natural assets of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries in East Dulwich and Honor Oak.

Southwark Council’s tree officer Gary Meadowcroft and Head of Parks Rebecca Towers met with Save Southwark Woods Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries and tree experts Treeconomics (for FOCC) to agree a procedure for the economic valuation of woods, trees and green spaces affected by Southwark’s own cemetery development strategy.

In 2012, Southwark embarked on a ‘reuse of graves’ strategy that aims to exhume or mound over most graves for resale as ‘new’ burial plots.

Southwark Council has written a blank cheque for inner city burial, saying it costs what it costs. There is no other council service that gets this treatment.

This economic assessment of natural asset value will count the cost to the borough of felling hundreds of trees and clearing woods, undergrowth and nature for the sake of keeping burial in the inner city. This loss or cost has never been included in the project budget.

The Camberwell Cemeteries are 100 acres of woods, playing fields, allotments, green spaces and burial grounds. They are Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation on Metropolitan Open Land.

These trees, woods, undergrowth and nature are natural assets that have immense value providing millions of pounds worth of benefits and services every year to the borough.

Treeconomics will carry out the assessment. Treeconomics did the London iTree assessment for the Mayor’s office published end of 2015 that valued London’s Urban Forest as an asset worth £6.1Bn, as well as providing tens of millions of pounds worth of benefit and services to London every year. The woods and trees of the Camberwell Cemeteries were included in the London iTree assessment.

Southwark Council has agreed to provide funding for technical support to produce the economic valuation of all zones of the Camberwell Cemeteries.

The economic valuation will cover all areas pf the Camberwell Cemeteries, including:

  • The two-acre area of woods (Area Z) in Underhil Road Wood, Camberwell Old Cemetery, prior to felling in February 2016
  • All 12 acres of Underhill Road Woods (including Areas H, J, K and L)
  • The three acres of Woodvale (Area F) cleared of hedgerows and meadows in 2013 for burial plots
  • The Glade (Area D1) on One Tree Hill, due for up to 60 trees including 10 English Oaks, to be felled if Diocese of Southwark gives permission
  • The three-acre Old Nursery Site (Area B) next to Honor Oak Park station
  • Honor Oak Recreation Ground
  • One Tree Hill Allotments

The assessment will measure all plant growth of a diameter of 35mm or more and value its contribution to health, wellbeing, storm water storage, clean air and so on.

Southwark Council requires developers to pay for losses caused by cutting down trees worth thousands of pounds to the borough. But not from their own developments.

Southwark has the information to assess their own projects – they just don’t use it to provide an asset value or include losses as part of the costs to the borough of their own developments.

Economic valuation means any losses (or gains) from a development can be scrutinised and included in council project costs and cost-benefit analyses – as Southwark requires other developers to do.

This economic assessment to be carried out over the next few months will assess the damage to nature and monetary losses (or gains) to borough services by cemetery developments proposed by Southwark Council.

The full value of nature can never be reduced to money.

But nature’s benefits, such as absorbing flooding, cleaning the air, cooling in summer and so on are services which otherwise Southwark would have to pay for, via additional drainage systems, health care costs and more.

Through this ecosystem services assessment, Southwark will understand the full monetary value provided by the natural assets of the Camberwell Cemeteries – estimated to be millions of pounds every year to the borough.

The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries Save Southwark Woods, are calling for the cemeteries to be saved as nature reserves, with respect for the dead and invaluable woods, trees and nature for the living.

Underhill Road Woods

Above: Beautiful Underhill Road Woods, 12 acres of woods and graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery – a Grade 1 SINC.

Below: Area Z in Underhill Road Wood: Two acres cleared, hundreds of trees felled for burial plots against thousands of written objections from residents.

Grade 1 SINC woods after

The Glade, Area D1 in Camberwell New Cemetery, on One Tree Hill – more than twenty trees to be felled including 10 English Oaks

Southwark Cemetery Stakeholder Group
The Glade