Save Southwark Woods

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Southwark cutting down trees directly over graves – risking the remains of 48,000 poor dead and WW1 soldiers

24 March 2017

Southwark Council is risking disturbing the graves of London’s poorest people in Camberwell Old Cemetery including possibly the graves of First World War soldiers.

This is something Southwark has promised they would not do.

More than 300 First and Second World War soldiers are buried in the Victorian cemetery.

Southwark doesn’t know where many of them are.

48 WW1 soldiers are known to lie in Area Z. But how can Southwark be sure that other unknown soldiers do not also lie under the trees in Area Z?

The Council has promised the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that no soldier’s grave would be buried over, let alone disturbed.

But trees, graves and memorials are mixed up together across the two-acre site which has been woodland in a Grade 1 SINC for over forty years.

Now all trees over the graves on Area Z are being removed.

How can Southwark remove these trees without disturbing the graves?

Southwark does not have permission to disturb any of the 48,000 graves on this site, let alone soldiers’ war graves. Some graves have remains buried in them 18 bodies deep.

The photos show trucks and works happening over the memorials and graves to remove trees. How is this respecting the graves of those beneath?

Why has Southwark Councillor in charge Ian Wingfield refused FOCC’s urgent and repeated requests for immediate site inspection?

What is Southwark going to do? Will it plough on regardless as it has done so far? Will Councillors claim they can remove trees without disturbing remains? Will FOCC be allowed to inspect the works?

View the video here. The houses in background are on Underhill Road.

It seems entirely possible that human remains – if not WW1 soldiers’ Commonwealth War Graves themselves – could be disturbed by the removal of the trees.

Southwark Council has no respect for the graves of 48,000 dead poor – including those of the soldiers. Southwark only cares about selling inner city burial plots over their remains, bringing in the chainsaws and diggers to do their dirty work, hidden from public view behind the hoardings.

FOCC has today written to demand that all work stop immediately and the site be inspected by the CWGC, FOCC and independent tree experts.

FOCC has also requested Southwark publish its plan immediately of how it intends to protect the graves of soldiers, their families and all the 48,000 people buried at Area Z. Their letter is below.

Even better, let nature return to protect the graves of the poor from Southwark’s actions.

24th March 2017

Dear Cllr Wingfield,

Request for immediate site inspection Area Z

Request for all tree information relating to Area Z

Request for all information and contract supplied to Bartlett Tree Surgeons

Request for detailed information on location of all 48 soldiers’ war graves at Area Z

Request copy of Southwark Council’s plan for the protection and memorialisation of all soldiers’ graves at Area Z

Please confirm receipt of this email as we have  received no reply to numerous emails to you this month.

We are deeply distressed to see that Southwark Council is now felling trees – in bird nesting season – in Area Z directly over the graves of the poor buried there and possibly over the graves of the 48 WW1 soldiers buried there.

Please see photos of Area Z attached below.

We request provision of the following with the utmost urgency:

– An immediate site inspection, with the CWGC and our independent tree specialist, (now fifth request)

– Copy of all Southwark Council’s contract documents with Bartlett Tree Surgeons, all information provided to them for all works to Area Z, including but not exclusively Southwark Council’s brief for tree felling, chipping and clearance work and the location and all information on all trees of 75mm diameter plus to be felled, in accordance with Church of England Faculty Application Rules.

– A copy of your plan to protect and memorialise all soldiers’ war graves in Area Z

– A copy of all correspondence with the CWGC on the graves in Area Z

Please confirm receipt of this email and respond, since you have failed to reply to numerous emails this month, including our repeated requests for a site inspection.

Please treat this with urgency and as a Freedom of Information request, I have copied in your Freedom of Information department.

I have also copied in the CWGC, Caring for God’s Acre, the Camberwell Cemeteries Working Group and others.


Blanche Cameron

Chair, Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries

The Save Southwark Woods Campaign

07731 304 966

Copied to:

CEO and Chair, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Harriet Carty, Director, Caring for God’s Acre

Gary Meadowcroft Southwark Tree Officer

Camberwell Cemeteries Working Group

Philip Petchey, Consistory Court Chancellor, Diocese of Southwark

Paul Morris, Registrar, Diocese of Southwark

Archbishop of Canterbury

Southwark Liberal Democrat Group Leader Anood Al-Samerai

Southwark Green Party Rashid Nix

Southwark Council Freedom of Information Office

Southwark MPs Harriet Harman, Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Southwark Freedom of Information Department

Photos: Trees chopped down over graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery. At least 48 WW1 soldiers are buried here. Third photo: the site two years ago. Fourth: Area F, where graves were obliterated n 2012.

graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery
graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery
Grade 1 SINC woods
Area F, where graves were obliterated n 2012.