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The petition to Save Southwark Woods at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries has just topped 6,000 signatures, on online and paper petitions.


Southwark council plans to clear woodland, felling hundreds of trees and digging up hundreds of old graves and memorials, to make 4,800 private new burial plots.


But thousands want them declared nature reserves, like Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries, with respect for the dead and wild woodland for the living, and for social, historical, health and environmental benefit.


Southwark’s plans are just plain wrong. Here’s why:


Southwark say they have an obligation to provide burial space within the borough.


But of 13 inner London boroughs, at least 9 currently offer out-of-borough burial. No borough has any legal requirement to provide burial space. Burial provision exists within 5 miles of the Camberwell cemeteries, and other councils like Tower Hamlets are investing in land in those cemeteries to save existing inner city green space and save residents paying out of borough charges.


Southwark says their plans are driven by demand for in-borough burial from Southwark residents.


But Southwark has not carried out formal consultation on these plans. The consultation they quote from 2011 was based on their proposal to rip up the well-used Honor Oak Recreation Ground for burial plots. Two thirds of the respondents were from Lewisham. The proposal was fought off by local groups. Southwark has never asked ‘would you want to be buried within the borough if it meant cutting down a tree?’


Southwark say they want to increase the biodiversity of these two cemeteries.


But how can you increase biodiversity by cutting down a living wood and planting a lifeless graveyard? Both cemeteries are rich in wildlife and Camberwell Old Cemetery is a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, with protected species including bats and owls.


Southwark say this is an equalities issue.


But this £5.2M project will NOT be accessible to whole segments of the population. None of the thousands of burial plots are suitable for Islamic or Jewish burial, and none will be green burial plots with tree planting as they 'take up too much space'.


Southwark says they care about the poor.


But Southwark is one of the poorest and most polluted boroughs in London, and the cemeteries are in a Clean Air Management Area. Most poor people cannot afford to be buried and choose cremation, while the council plans to sell off new private burial plots to the rich for revenue.


Southwark say they are concerned for social heritage.


But they propose digging up many hundreds of old private graves and covering over hundreds of thousands of paupers in common graves, desecrating graves, destroying beautiful monuments, and showing complete disrespect for the historical poor of Southwark.


Southwark say their plans make sound financial sense.


But Southwark has not carried out a full Cost Benefit Analysis of the scheme, including evaluating the financial, social and environmental benefit from these cemeteries to Southwark and London as a whole, as they currently are, as they could be as 100 acres of nature reserves, and as they propose with 4,800 new burial plots. How much would 100 acres of woods be worth to south London’s health? How much is Highgate cemetery worth to air pollution?


Finally, Southwark say they are almost ready to go with their plans.


But they have not carried out required Biodiversity, Habitat, Bat or Bird surveys. They have not carried out an iTree survey. And they have not yet applied for planning permission from the Church of England, on whose permission the whole misconceived strategy depends.



Campaigners have nominated Southwark Woods as Assets of Community Value, under the Localism Act of 2011, to protect these cemeteries and demonstrate their irreplaceable social and environmental value to people.


Woodlands are the lungs of London and should be preserved and extended for the good of all residents, not destroyed for a few.


“These beautiful wild woodlands and green spaces are an incredible asset for Southwark and south London. We need a fresh vision for them as 100 acres of nature reserves, with huge social and environmental benefit far into the future,” said Abby Taubin, Save Southwark Woods spokesperson and local resident.



SSW believes this project was ill-conceived from the beginning and has no future. More than 6,000 citizens are now calling on Southwark council to declare these cemeteries nature reserves and preserve them, with respect for the dead and their memorials and woodlands for the living.


How can the council ignore their call?

Camberwell Old Cemetery woods Grade I SINC


Petition reaches 6,000 - here's why

13th May 2015

1 Cam-Old-Cemetery photo credit Grey Lipley