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What’s an inner city woodland worth?


Southwark has allocated £5M+ to spend on increasing burial space. They want to fell dozens of trees and clear acres of inner city woodland at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries – for 15 years of burial space.


A contaminated part of the woodland, so-called ‘Area Z’ at Camberwell Old Cemetery, needs cleaning up after years of illegal dumping under the council’s watch. Using this as a lever, Southwark are effectively planning a lucrative sell-off of the woods.


Even though there were only around 200 burials last year, Southwark council is claiming it needs 6,000 new burial plots. At an average £4,000 per plot with headstone, this would bring in around £24M, a £20M profit.


But what is the full value of these woodlands that are to be destroyed in the process? And what future potential would be lost? Imagine what value a 100 Acre Wood could have?


The Mayor of London's iTree survey is currently assessing the annual economic benefit to the capital from trees and woodlands – including Southwark’s. It is due to report imminently.


Resident campaign group Save Southwark Woods says Southwark council should prove due diligence and wait until these results are published. Campaigners have been looking at the maths.


“The iTree survey will tell Southwark how much these woodlands are worth each year, from cleaning the air to cooling the hot city, to improving value for businesses and home owners. It is likely to be in the millions – maybe tens of millions of pounds,” said campaign spokesperson Blanche Cameron.


“To give an idea, in 2008 the annual contribution of Highbury Fields woods was valued at £44M. That’s each year.”


“Southwark plans to spend £4M digging up acres of woodlands and greenspace for 6,000 burial plots, 15 years supply. Why aren’t they waiting for the iTree assessment, to see how much the family silver is actually worth? They may gain £20M overall, but they are losing community assets potentially worth tens of millions to Londoners each year into the future.”


Campaigners also say there is a far better solution to the issue of burial:


“Southwark could invest a much smaller sum, say £250k, to clean up the contaminated area and return it to public access woodland. It should then declare the cemeteries local nature reserves and increase their woodland – and their value – to a 100 Acre Wood.”


They say that Southwark, in accordance with its own Cabinet decision in 2012, should purchase burial land in one of a number of private cemeteries nearby for around £3,000 per plot.


This would create a total net profit of £6M from burials – with an annual income of £1M and net profit of £250,000 each year – and Southwark would still gain the multi-million pound annual benefits from the woodlands for generations to come.


Campaigners say nature and all its benefits should not be just for the rich. Woodlands are the lungs of London and Southwark is one of the poorest and most polluted boroughs. Thousands die each year across London from the impacts of air-pollution, last year around 100 were Southwark citizens.


Southwark wants to press ahead, but residents say the council has a duty to wait for the iTree assessment, before they destroy the woods. Campaigners say we can’t value woodlands purely in financial terms, but if the council plan to lose them, then the full loss should be calculated. Residents will not stand by and see community asset woodlands dug up for short-term profit – at such a long-term cost. The battle for Southwark Woods continues.


What's an inner city woodland worth?

28th February 2015

Cam-Cemetery-Grey Lipley