Save Southwark Woods

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SSW calls for first “rewilding” of cemeteries

17 December 2015

Today, as chainsaws and diggers approach the woods of Southwark’s Camberwell Cemeteries, Save Southwark Woods called for all cemeteries to be “rewilded”.

Southwark Council wants to chainsaw more than twelve (12) acres of woods for burial plots at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries – one hundred acres of Metropolitan Open Land in South London.

Many hundreds of trees are for the chop. Southwark Council has already marked as many as 30 trees on historic One Tree Hill for felling, and the diggers are on standby.

Yes, you read that right: Southwark Council plans to cut down over 12 acres of Grade 1 and 2 SINC woods for burial plots – as if Southwark has never heard of climate change or rapidly decreasing natural habitats or the vital value of woods and wild places. Now. In 2015.

But Save Southwark Woods has a far greater vision for these exceptionally large areas of inner city woods and green space in one of the most polluted cities in the world – “rewilding”.

Rewilding is the process by which areas are returned to as close to their natural state as possible. At the Camberwell Cemeteries, this would mean stopping destructive, expensive mowing regimes and pesticide use, and allowing the natural seed bank of the soil to germinate. After all, this was once a part of the Great North Woods.

The Angel of Camberwell Old Cemetery
The Angel of Camberwell Old Cemetery

“This could be the first active rewilding of cemeteries in the world,” said Save Southwark Woods spokesperson Blanche Cameron. “In 2015, we cannot be cutting down trees in the middle of London – especially not for burial space! This is insane. We need all the woods and trees we can get and we have a responsibility to our children to protect and extend these woods. Rewilding is a completely rational strategy. It would create a new 100 Acre Wood in Southwark, making it one of the greenest boroughs in London.”

Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries in Nunhead/Honor Oak and East Dulwich could be the first cemeteries in Britain, perhaps the world, to be deliberately allowed to return to their natural state.

The chainsaws and the diggers must be put away. The existing woods and trees must be protected, seeds in the soil allowed to germinate, and trees, bushes and wildflowers allowed to grow around the monuments, as happened through ‘benign neglect’ in the 1980s at Nunhead, Highgate and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and other London cemeteries.

Monuments and woods in harmony, providing a myriad of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional benefits to Londoners
Monuments and woods in harmony, providing a myriad of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional benefits to Londoners

More than 3,500 Southwark residents, 8,000 across London and more than 10,000 people nationwide already support protecting the Camberwell Cemeteries as Nature Reserves.

SSW today calls on all Southwark Councillors, the Diocese of Southwark (who have yet to grant consent to Southwark to develop on this consecrated cemetery land), members of the GLA, local MPs Harriet Harman and Helen Hayes, and the London Mayoral candidates (many of whom already support Save Southwark Woods) to rewild London’s cemeteries, starting with Camberwelll Old and New.

“Our proposals may sound radical – but in fact they are entirely reasonable.” said Save Southwark Woods campaigner and local resident Lewis Schaffer. “If you include One Tree Hill Nature Reserve and Nunhead Cemetery we could create almost two hundred acres of wild woods and meadows in this part of Southwark alone.”

According to the recent London iTree-Eco survey, 200 acres of woods in London would have an amenity value of £113million, giving £340,000 each year in free ecosystem services – well worth fighting for.

“In the future, rewilding will be standard practice,” said Lewis. “Felling acres of woods in the inner city will be unthinkable. Not only is rewilding needed – we think it is inevitable.”