Two historic oaks in Sydenham Hill Wood are likely to be felled by Southwark Council despite a petition to save them having the support of more than a thousand people.
The council says the two hundred-year-old trees must be chopped to make way for vital safety work on Cox’ Walk Footbridge, as the banks to the bridge have deteriorated, compromising its safety.
It says if work doesn’t take place the bridge will have to be closed – cutting off part of the green chain walking and cycling route.
To mitigate the loss, fifteen semi-mature oaks have already been planted nearby.
Environmentalists from Southwark have come together under the banner of ‘Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign’, urging the council to reconsider.
They say work can take place without damaging the trees.
More than 1,500 have signed a petition so far, with one writing: “I’m appalled at this misjudgement by the council, felling trees should be avoided at all costs, they play a vital role in their local ecosystem which has built up over 100 years. Irreplaceable.”
Campaigners claim the best value option to repair the bridge has been ignored in favour of a “full blown excavation” – billed at £200,000. And, as the nesting season is over, the trees could be brought down any day now.
Southwark councillor Rebecca Lury, cabinet member for culture, leisure, equalities and communities, said: “While the trees are not the principle cause of damage to the embankment, they are just 1.5 meters from the bridge and within the five meter clearance zone, needed for the safe construction of the essential work.
“Sadly, relocating the trees is unlikely to be viable on this occasion, as there is no guarantee of success.
“The process of undercutting and the severance of roots would need to take place over a number years, before removing the trees with a tree spade, all at a great cost.
“We have undertaken a range of assessments and inspections in order to arrive at our proposed solution, which is the most practical and cost effective for the structure.”
But campaigners maintain the bridge could be made safe for less cost and without losing the oaks.
In a statement send to the News on behalf of the campaign, a spokesperson said: “In April 2019 Southwark Council declared a climate emergency. But it is not enough for it to come up with a few headline commitments.
“Every decision in every department should have its impact on carbon emissions taken into account.
“Living trees lock up carbon, limiting its release as atmospheric CO2. Dead trees decompose releasing CO2.
“Unnecessary use of concrete and heavy machinery, and disposing of the old rubble, all have costs.
“Big engineering projects are not always the best answer.”