Climate emergency: Southwark lost nearly 2,000 trees in a decade

Katherine Johnston (11 March, 2020)

Southwark Council says they will be replaced

33244(c) Save the Footbridge Oaks campaign

Southwark Council has cut down more trees than it has planted in the last decade despite declaring a climate emergency.

Data shared with the News by Southwark’s Liberal Democrats show that since 2018 the Labour-run council has recorded a net loss of nearly 1,000 trees.

This comes after cabinet papers, published in December 2019, recorded that over 1,200 trees had been lost since 2010.  Although it unclear how much these two figures overlap, they suggest a net loss of nearly 2,000 in the last decade.

Last year the council declared a climate emergency. The London Mayor’s office has also declared ambitious targets for increasing the capital’s tree canopy by ten per cent before 2050.

The local authority has already pledged to always replace a felled tree, but these aren’t always like-for-like replacements – or timely ones.

Peter John, Southwark Council’s leader, did not dispute the figures, telling the News: “We never remove a tree without careful consideration of all available options to retain it and we are replacing all of the trees lost through our management, when this is not possible”

He added: “Managing 80,000 trees is a continuous ongoing process, that largely centres around balancing our desire to care for, maintain and grow our tree stock, with managing any risk presented by sick or dying trees, to people in their vicinity.”

One site to lose out is Dickens Square Park, undergoing a £1.5 million revamp.  In total, 98 trees will be felled with just 20 planted.  The remaining 78 are being placed elsewhere in the borough.

However, the council has to balance calls for more nature and tree cover with complaints of anti-social behaviour in shaded and unlit areas – many of which cropped up during a public consultation.

The plans, with reduced tree cover, were also endorsed by a ‘designing out crime’ team at the Met, which helps councils design spaces in such a way to discourage crime.

Southwark Lib Dems have blasted the council’s record and say the new figures show the climate emergency declaration pays lip-service without action.Lib Dem councillors Graham Neale and Adele Morris say air quality concerns could be immediately addressed by installing ‘CityTree stations’ in pollution hotspots – including those that have seen tree felling.  They are pushing for ten of these air purifiers, which are like portable living walls, to be placed in the borough’s most polluted streets, having the equivalent impact of 270 trees.

Campaigns have cropped up across the borough to protect mature trees at risk of felling. These have included those felled within the boundary of Camberwell Old Cemetery due to development of the site.

Last year, two oaks in Sydenham Hill Wood were temporarily saved after an outcry. The council had planned to give them the chop during maintenance works to the footbridge they straddle but is now holding a consultation until August. The earliest the oaks could be felled would be in September 2020.

Contribute
William Pearce says:

Given a decade of austerity and the litigious times we live in, it’s perhaps not surprising that Southwark Council has cut down more trees than it has planted. It is to be hoped, following last year’s declaration of a climate emergency, the net loss of 2000 trees over the past decade will be turned around. However, with budgets continuing to be tight, loss of canopy cover is only likely to get worse. Replacing one lost mature tree with a sapling doesn’t mitigate the loss of canopy and semi-mature replacements are expensive; so in addition to planting new trees, it is important to retain as many healthy, mature trees as possible and pollard with restraint.
On the subject of Dickens Square, members of our group, Trees For Bermondsey (follow us on Twitter: @BermondseyFor ), met with Southwark Council officials (at their suggestion) in Dickens Square on 11th March and after further consultation, it was decided to retain a further two 40-year-old poplars and the considerable canopy cover they represent.
The lesson here is for the public to get involved (we would happily welcome more members). Expressing anger when the trees are gone is commendable but ultimately, a waste of time. The trees in the streets, parks and open spaces are ours. We have to look after them and look out for them. The Developer’s cheque book is a powerful thing, especially when it offers to replace what could be lost, but simply planting new for old is not enough. We are losing our heritage. It’s time to “Make room for trees”.

Trees For Bermondsey

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