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Guerrilla Gardener and urban nature activist Richard Reynolds spoke passionately on Robert Elms’ BBC London show this week, about the importance of saving urban forests for their essential eco-services to citizens and the city.


The Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle is in one of the densest and most polluted parts of Southwark, if not London. The estate was planted with 450 Lime and London Plane trees amongst the tower blocks, when it was built in the 1970s.


But when Southwark sold off the estate to developers for less-than-affordable housing, they somehow forgot to value this important urban forest asset, for all the free eco-services it provides, like urban cooling, air pollution and mental and physical health. Some say they handed the developers a ‘blank sheet of paper’.


Determined to save the forest, local residents measured and valued the trees using the Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees (CAVAT) system, used by the London Tree Officers Association, as Richard said, “to point out how much the council were giving away, how much the developer had been handed.”


The figure, validated by the Forestry Commission, was £15M every year to Southwark in free eco-services.


Campaigners stopped the whole lot from being flattened, which is a considerable achievement, but a little over half will still be felled. “Ironically,” said Richard, “the developer is now pinning its marketing on trees, trees, trees...”


Richard then described how the battle was moving south. ”Southwark council has a very bad record of valuing trees and they are now threatening what is called Southwark Woods, down in Honor Oak.”


He compared the Victorian Necropolis Line that used to take people out of the city to Brookwood Cemetery, with Southwark’s plans to chainsaw 10 acres of inner city Southwark Woods at the Camberwell Cemeteries for thousands of burial plots.


“The trees look like they might be the ones suffering to make way for that," said Richard. "This could be a hundred acre wild reserve, this is a space which is much more about life, than a sterile cemetery.”


On July 8th, Save Southwark Woods campaigners will present the petition from over 8,000 people to the Southwark council assembly, to declare the cemeteries nature reserves and provide burial for all who seek it at Kemnal Park, purpose built to help manage London’s burial crisis.


Along with many other residents in Southwark, Richard has fought hard to save and extend nature and urban forests.


“The blue Labour lot that run Southwark council really have a lot to answer for,” he said. ”It’s a phone in – Peter John give us a call!”


Unfortunately, Peter John probably wasn’t listening.



Watch Richard Reynolds' inspiring TEDx talk on Guerrilla Gardening in Southwark


Check out the ‘Grow Elephant’ project at the Heygate Elephant & Castle Urban Forest:


Richard Reynolds on the fight for Elephant & Castle Urban Forest and Southwark Woods

26th June 2015