The Present. Camberwell Old Cemetery.

The Past: A meadow in Camberwell Old Cemetery three years ago.


1AM Saturday 6 December 2014 Nunhead Heights

Tomorrow begins a series of information meetings on council plans to bulldoze acres of woodland in Nunhead and East Dulwich. See below for times and locations.

“When a comedian is bored of making people laugh he goes into politics. When a politician is bored of being serious, he tries his hand at comedy.”

I made that up but I think it’s true.

I don’t want to be hated and that is what happens in politics. In comedy, you usually don’t get hated you eventually lose the people who hate you and perform only for your fans, who, in my case, could fit in the smallest of Soho basements.

Anyway, knowing I am going to be hated, let me speak out against the Council’s plans to provide affordable burial space in Southwark’s cemeteries.

I know the land that was bought specifically for the purpose of burying the dead of Southwark.  I  am just someone passing through and yet I am asking that Southwark use the land for another purpose, one which most Southwarkers won’t see a direct benefit. Most of Southwarkers live in the flat areas or by the river and don’t come into the green bit.

Present Day Camberwell Old Cemetery

The Present: The same meadow in Camberwell Old Cemetery now (well, last summer).

And, here is hypocrisy, I buried my own mother in someone else’s open space in Staten Island, far away from where I live.

[A quick history, as I know it: A few years back Southwark Council didn’t have as much money as they do now and fewer residents wanted to be buried in Southwark. The Council didn’t tend the graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery and much of it became feral. The Old Cemetery is one of the three old burial places in our area  and acres and acres the grounds are a tangle of wilderness and just four miles from London Bridge.]

It has become a truly beautiful place. A wilderness in the midst of an inner city suburbs. And it is one of the things that makes Greater Nunhead, or South Southwark or East Dulwich environs, okay, let’s call it “The Green Bit” so beautiful.

The wonderful Anne Stanesby is working hard to stop Southwark Council. She sent me an email telling of the Council’s plans and the series of meetings they are having to inform us what they are doing. It appears to be a done deal, in their eyes.

The Present: Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood

The Present: Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood as it is.

Anne disseminated:

“They have given me and the other recipients of this letter virtually no proper notice of these ” exhibitions” which are to take place very soon indeed i.e.

Saturday 6th December 10 am-12pm at Honor Oak Baptist Church, Forest Hill Road
Monday 8th December 6-8 pm at Brenchley Gardens Community Centre
Wednesday 10th December 2-4pm Honor Oak Baptist Church

My environmentalist educator friend, Blanche Cameron,  heard of the plans and wrote Councillor Darren Merrill a letter. This is some of it:

“These cemeteries are havens for wildlife with ancient woodland which it is against Southwark’s own policy to destroy. Woodland is not a number of trees, it is an ecosystem, an intricate web of a diverse range of species and habitats that, as a whole ecosystem, make up this specially balanced natural environment. These are exceptionally beautiful woods, with a diversity of species and habitats that support Southwark’s Biodiversity Action Plan…”

Read the rest at the bottom, below. She is brilliant.

The Future: Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood. Lifeless graves.

The Future: Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood. Lifeless, abandoned graves, which is what it will look like.

I wrote a series of blog posts about it three years ago, when the Council was talking about digging up the sports grounds at the Camberwell New Cemetery. Was that a red herring to divert attention from plans to bulldoze the Camberwell Old Cemetery? I cannot say.

Anyway, there is a series of meetings begin today, Saturday. I am going to go to them. I love the woods that make “The Green Bit” green. Please love them too.

There, you hate me now. Sorry.

Senseless plug for my comedy show, where I probably won’t mention the woods or anything I really care about, at least not without humour. 
Leicester Square Theatre Thursdays 
Blanche Cameron’s letter.

Dear Councillor Darren Merrill,

I am writing as a frequent visitor to Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries (as well as Nunhead Cemetery) from neighbouring Lewisham.

 These cemeteries are havens for wildlife with ancient woodland which it is against Southwark’s own policy to destroy. Woodland is not a number of trees, it is an ecosystem, an intricate web of a diverse range of species and habitats that, as a whole ecosystem, make up this specially balanced natural environment. These are exceptionally beautiful woods, with a diversity of species and habitats that support Southwark’s Biodiversity Action Plan, as well as policies on education, environment, and mental and physical health, providing benefits on all levels to local residents and visitors (including cleaner air and local rainfall and water management).

I have been alerted to the proposals planned by the Council and am writing to express my disgust at the intention to destroy these long-established ecosystems, in order to make way for 1,000 new burial places. This is like digging up a nature reserve to make a car park instead of encouraging cycling!

 1. Over the last 150+ years, Victorian cemeteries have become important areas of natural green space and wildlife in the city and are regularly used for recreation as well as burials. These areas were originally allocated as cemeteries because they were on the edge of the city. That has not been the case now for many decades. You cannot use Victorian land allocations as a justification for clearing natural green areas in the city. What is your justification for this loss of nature and natural habitats?

2. Planting new trees cannot replicate existing equilibriums, natural ecosystems and habitats. It is not just a matter of demolishing a few trees, and increasing pathways through this beautiful natural reserve and placing 1,000 new graves in this haven for wildlife and people. It goes against national policy (the Environment White Paper), London-wide policy (Open Space Strategies, London Biodiversity Strategy) and Southwark Council’s own policies (Local Development Framework, Tree Strategy, Biodiversity Strategy, Play Strategy, Health Strategy) to preserve – and increase – access to nature and green spaces, for a multitude of benefits to Londoners. What is your justification for contravening so many national, London-wide and local policies?

3. As Cabinet Member for the Environment, I would have thought that your brief from Southwark residents would have been to fight for the preservation and maintenance of this exceptionally valuable natural environment? How can you justify your role on the Council when you appear to be breaking the purpose of your public office? Nature has a value beyond the financial, and is responsible for the health and well-being of citizens, as well as improving neighbourhood climate, air and water quality. Are we to go back to the era when nature was considered subordinate to ‘man’ and technologists claimed to lead the way? Once again, I refer you to the title of your office – Cabinet Member for the Environment, not Cabinet Member for Earth Burials. What is your justification for abandoning your brief?

 4. The ridiculously short notice: You have given residents a week or less notice for these ‘exhibitions’. Your letter was dated 1st December, arriving on 3rd December with exhibitions on 6th, 8th and 10th December, with comments to be returned by 9th January. I understand that representations have been made to Council officers about these issues since the spring, so what is your excuse for such extremely short public ‘consultation’ notice now? Or, given that this is also one of the very busiest times of the year for most, is there another motive behind this? Are these exhibitions claiming to be public consultation (as understood in the official terminology) when in fact they are merely public information? What is Southwark’s statutory minimum notice required for public consultation events?

 5. Exhibition or consultation: How can you call an ‘exhibition’ consultation? And if it is not a true consultation, then why bother? These exhibitions cost tax payers money. Why not just admit you don’t care what people think or want or need, and just plough on with digging up nature anyway?

6. What fees are being paid to external consultants Westco to carry out the consultation?

 You must be aware of the value of these woodlands on a multitude of levels to the community and visitors, as well as to nature and the species that inhabit these woods, as well as the national, London-wide and local borough strategies that they contravene. I urge you to reconsider these proposals.


Blanche Cameron


6 thoughts on “Why Camberwell Woods should not be bulldozed. A serious post for Southwark people.

  1. As someone that lives nearby and has to look at these neglected and overgrown areas that are havens for rats, foxes and the odd fly tipper., I look forward to the council doing something with the land. Until the protests started, very few people bothered to use the space except for dog walkers allowing their animals to deposit excrement in the grass. I think your photographs demonstrate that apart from you and your sons, few living people use the area. The 30 mature trees mentioned have been identified as being “Poor” diseased and potentially a danger. I’m sure that none of the people signing the petition wouldn’t think of trying to sue the council if they were injured by a falling branch of a diseased tree. You obviously live in the area and use the woods but as with many protests people get involved and strongly air their views, but once a decision has been made they will disappear never to return whatever the outcome. The 38 Degrees campaign has received almost 4000 signatures and when you read through them you find hardly anyone lives in the area or has ever visited the woods. How many people turn up at the meetings that have visited the woods before the protest. The argument that the trees and bushes that will be removed will impact on the air quality of London just isn’t scientifically supported as the land will remain green and not be built upon. Quote from 38 Degrees: “These woodlands provide many valuable benefits locally, cleaning the air, absorbing and filtering storm water, keeping the neighbourhood cool in summer, and providing beautiful, natural places for our mental and physical well-being.” What is going to change? If one bothers to read the report in detail you’ll note that the only major change would be the extended use of burial plots. We live in a country that supposedly has free choice. Even though I don’t personally believe in burial, but if that is what people want, we should provide people with choice on land that was acquired for this purpose.

      1. I don’t want to put my details on a public forum but I’m quite happy to give them to you via email. I have no relationship with the council or any contractors that may be involved in the proposed works. I’m just a private individual expressing my opinion.

    1. 10 days have now passed and still you haven’t posted a response. Surely it can’t take that long. The protest walk only attracted fewer than 300. Even this figure covers the true turnout, as most of them were children dragged along by parents. Come on Lewis surely that comment will provoke a response. Or is it that even you don’t read your own news blog?

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