Pet Cemetery

A nascent discussion is taking place on another thread about this, so we've decided it's time to get round to covering the mutt-free mortuary debate that's been threatening to cross over in to our world for some time.

Regular correspondent Barry LS copied us on his recent letter to the Mercury:

Whilst applauding the work of FOBLC, as a local resident and dog owner I feel the organisation is being rather selfish in hording a huge area of land at Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries for its own pleasure.

The Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries dominate the Crofton Park area, and whilst it is a valuable addition to the local landscape, I feel it is only fair to make this available to other people in the community.

One thing is for sure - the cemeteries truly are deserted most of the time, even with the occasional dogwalker it should still be able to support wildlife.

Dogwalkers are often undervalued as the eyes and ears of the community, and they prize the environment just as much as anyone else. Lets's share the green spaces in our city for everyone's enjoyment.

But it’s not just dogs under threat – the long-tailed tits are also in trouble… Barry's email followed another letter that we received, from Lou, which took issue with another aspect of the FOBLC's work, namely its attempts to tidy up. We include the most relevant section here:

The combined ‘Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery has been an oasis of calm, a place of richly divergent habitats for species and one of the last few important wild areas in Lewisham. It is a place to watch the seasons – the flaming of blackthorn in the autumn, the brilliant red of rosehips and haws, the purples and blacks of blackberries and elderberries, lime blossoms in June, red clover and acorns. The cemetery is home to wolf spiders, cantharidae beetles, lacewings, lesser spotted wood butterflies and commas. Jays nest there, and crows and green finches, as well as long tailed tits.

On the 17th Feb, whilst walking in the cemetery I came across a group of men from FOBLC ( the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery). They were cutting down or splintering off young trees.Since about September last year I had seen attempts to tidy the cemetery particularly on the wilder Brockley side by removing brambles, ivy, clover and saplings from the tombstones. Additionally, the old Victorian weathered signs at the Brockley road side of the cemetery gates, which referred to the cemetery as being Deptford have been removed, eradicating a bit of seminal, but probably too ‘untidy’ history.

I argued with them about what they were doing - the cemetery is Borough grade 1 listed as a habitat for wildlife and is listed on Wild Web as a cemetery coming to the end of its working life. It became apparent to me that they did not know a) what species they were destroying b) there was no plan for the destruction c) they had also been removing ground cover and ivy from the tombstones regardless of their age or state of preservation.

I contacted Cllr Sue Luxton, the local Green councillor and in the course of email correspondance she admitted that this group has been working with cemeteries management and that they have been removing trees in a Borough grade 1 conservation area without planning permission. The cemetery is listed under its Borough grade 1 status as :

Acid grassland ; Amenity grassland ; Planted shrubbery ; Scattered trees ; Semi-improved neutral grassland ; Vegetated wall/tombstones –

However, whilst we were in correspondence the destruction has continued – 2 weeks later I went back to the cemetery. Nearly 50% of the tombstones on the Brockley side have been denuded of any vegetation (destroying many beetle, bird, spider and other habitats) and the grass has been shorn within an inch of its life. If this continues, the Brockley side will only be bare gray tombstones and very short grass with a few really big trees (but no young ones.)This includes denuding tombstones that are so old there is no inscription on them.

There’s no doubt that the FOBLC are passionate about their work – it’s hard to imagine someone joining a cemetery fan club for any other reason. It’s also true that they have actively tried to to involve more local people in their hobby and the FOBLC website documents their work in brilliant detail. We also know that FOBLC members are regular readers of Brockley Central, so hopefully they will respond to the issues raised.

24 comments:

patrick1971 said...

I saw Barry's letter and noted that he lived just around the corner from me! There was a very angry response to his letter in the next week's Mercury from someone from the Friends group.

You do have to wonder what is wrong with the council sometimes. The chap has spoken to Sue Luxton, who's confirmed that people are removing trees in a Grade 1 listed area. That's great! We knew that! What's being done about it? It's the Speedicars sign syndrome all over again. No wonder people are sceptical about councils' and police's powers to do anything when something that visibly and obviously violates the rules is just allowed to continue instead of being nipped in the bud immediately. Classic broken windows theory, again.

lb said...

I think the lesson here is: if you've got a thin skin, don't bother volunteering to improve communal areas, as some enraged resident is always going to insist that you do it their way. Or not do it at all.

I think the FOBLC are doing a great job, keep it up.

Incidentally, "Semi-improved neutral grassland" would generally preclude saplings - unless you want the existing ground vegetation to die off pretty rapidly it's a good idea to get saplings (and ground ivy) out of there. Grassland has to be managed - it's how the vast majority of British grassland habitats came into being.

lb said...

[patrick] They're removing self-seeded saplings in an area listed as "grassland". This would seem entirely in keeping with management of this type of habitat.

patrick1971 said...

If that's true, lb, and it's all legitimate, fine. I don't know the ins and outs of it. But if the council is saying that they're interfering with a Grade 1 area without permission, surely that's not really on? Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that there's a group that cares enough to look after the cemetery, but the heritage rules are there for a reason.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

Am I being thick, can someone explain to me what has this got to do with a pet cemetary?

lb said...

Unless they're completely abandoned, cemeteries represent a managed, or partly managed, habitat. The 'rules' should also take account of this.

Brockley Kate said...

I think Nick has an underlying agenda to link every post to a film title ... ;-)

Monkeyboy said...

Of course! "Accelerated timetable for ELL 2" not a patch on the original in my opinion.

patrick1971 said...

Indeed, lb, and of course Highgate Cemetery in its heyday looked very different from how it does now.

But it does seem odd that if the rules are there, and the council acknowledges that the work is being done without planning permission, why haven't they done something about it?

Brockley Nick said...

"Am I being thick, can someone explain to me what has this got to do with a pet cemetary?"

It's about a cemetery. Where pet dogs have been banned...

Danja said...

You didn't answer the first part of his question, Nick.

Brockley Nick said...

An alternative explanation of the title is that it's about a cemetery, that is the pet project of some dedicated people.

It works on so many levels.

@Danja - don't tempt me please.

lb said...

[patrick] If the tree is less than 75mm in diameter, no special permission is required to do work on it. Ergo there is nothing for the Council to do.

As for the brambles and ivy, I don't think the conservation area gives them any special status, or indeed the length of the grass.

Anonymous said...

I think this illustrates quite nicely that there are people who are knowledgable about things, but who choose not to be part of a group, for whatever reason. That means that, from within a group, being 'outside the group' their views are not worth anything.

The people at Speedicars have a reason for their sign, and they should be encouraged to be part of a community, perhaps this one, sop their views can be understood. Then, they can step back outside if they choose so to do.

groups are not always a good thing or a means to getting things done.

I went into Ladywell Cemetary yesterday and saw a dog walker...

Brockley Nick said...

Yes the people at Speedicars have a reason for using that inappropriate, ugly, ill-fitting sign. They want to save money, at the expense of the look of the whole street. Tough.

But yes, I'd love them to come on the site and tell us there's another, more subtle reason that we can't see and that it's actually for the greater good.

Anonymous said...

well, inclusivity is a good thing, exclusivity isn't so much

Tressillian James said...

Dogs are totally inappropriate for a cemetery. Bereaved families buy plots as a place where their loved ones can rest in peace. If all kept their dogs on leads and on paths in wouldn't be so bad - but the reality is that it becomes used as a de-facto park. It's not a park - and there is no 'right' to its space - its a quiet place of rememberance. Dog walkers ahve plenty of other places to go - as I said before, I have a dog and there are loads of appropriate places to walk my loveable mutt.

Tamsin said...

FONC - Friends of Nunhead Cemetery seem to have got the balance right between preserving the attractions of wilderness and wild-life havens and at the same time keeping the cemetery functioning and winning the battle against self-seeded sycamores.

Those who care about the wildlife, pet walking potential of the cemetery (surely to some extent mutually exclusive) should join the group and have their say from within.

I tend to personally like an element of wilderness - I certainly stopped visiting Eltham Churchyard once the brambles were cleared away - they were the best blackberries I have ever picked!

Anonymous said...

it's the nutrient rich soil...

spincat said...

I agree that they seem to be getting the balance right from what I have seen, visiting once every couple of weeks. I like wilderness too and hate places that are too neat (it was lovely when Crystal Palace had those strange old statues emerging from brambles and no health and safety barriers, for example), but I don't think there is danger of the place becoming overly neat, given its scale and nature.
Dogs like digging up bones, so I guess a cemetery isn't the best place for them to run around...

do dah said...

Dogs are a great, 'man's best friend' and all, but do they really belong in the city? With the population density. Frankly in the city 'human's real best friend is the mobile phone!

Headhunter said...

When I volunteered at Highgate Cemetery several years ago (I was a member of FOHC and used to give guided tours there), there was much debate about the extent to which the undergrowth should be cleared. The old dear (or battle axe, depending on who you spoke to) who ran the charity which runs Highgate Cemetery, was of the view that "benign neglect" (as she termed it) was good and was always quick to point out that the cemetery was a real haven for wildlife. Others though that the cemetery should be brought back to its Victorian splendour with trimmed trees and bushes and carefull mown lawns.

Without even taking into account the amount of work and money it would take to return something like Highgate cemetery to its original condition cemeteries have very much become valuable nature reserves in many cities, however as LB points out, the land needs managing. In the wild, rabbits would naturally keep grass levels down allowing wild flowers to flourish and species like Sycamore would be kept in check - Sycamores are basically tree weeds, they are not indigenous to this country and will grow anywhere given half a chance preventing slower growing native species from springing up. The same goes for ivy and brambles - they can cover vast tracts of land choking out anything else. Without the presence of creatures that in the wild would keep this in check, someone needs to manage the land.

It's a fine line, but some cutting back and management is definitely needed, although I would not like it to be hacked right back completely.

Tamsin said...

@ anon. 15.38. I know - that was my thought too and it obviously worked very well. I also liked in my mind acknowleding the spirit of Colonel North or whoever while picking blackberries from their grave - at least someone was remembering them.

@Spincat -I don't think canine exhumation is a problem - just dogs running loose, cocking legs against headstones (less reverential than my blackberry picking) and leaving messes. As so often a few dogs (and owners) being irresponsible give the rest a bad name.

I agree about Crystal Palace. It was magic. I used to take my children to have a picnic supper with the Sphinxes after their swimming lessons.

Sue Luxton said...

Hi
Just a couple of points in response to this, in capacity as a local cllr, although I am also a founding member of FOBLC. The views expressed by the individual who wrote to the local papers about dogs in cemeteries were his own views, rather than those of FOBLC. It was clear at the last FOBLC meeting that many members did not share his views. Sam Kirk, Lewisham's Waste Manager came to talk about possible changes to the dog policy in Lewisham, which will be consulted on in the Autumn. Among the things the Council plan to consult on is allowing dog walkers to take their dogs into the cemeteries if kept on a lead. Current dilemma Council has is that it says 'no dogs' but doesn't have the dog wardens to enforce the rule and officers think it may be better to allow responsible dog owners to use the cemeteries as is the case with Nunhead. Only 2 animal welfare officers in the borough, and most of their time is taken up dealing with stray dogs. They will do 'awareness raising' days however. More people walking in the cemeteries can have the positive effect of reducing vandalism etc. Anyway, that is to be consulted on.

Re the trees and maintenence - FOBLC are a new group, on a learning curve, but with lots of enthusiasm and a variety of interests in the cemeteries (some are interested in the biodiversity, others the war graves or preserving certain graves eg Ernest Dowson's, others have relatives buried there.

FOBLC's workdays are carried out in conjunction with and under the supervision of the cemeteries management team. There was a misunderstanding of what was covered under the management plan when the saplings were cut down on the first workday - the mgmt team thought it was ok, but since the cemeteries have been added to the conservation area, planning permission for the removal of trees over a certain height is required. In this case that was applied for and granted restrospectively. Highlights how long it was since any significant tree work had taken place in the cemeteries that the issue only now came to light.

FOBLC have not been involved in clearing other areas of the cemeteries, although the Council maintenence staff/contractors may have been.

FOBLC and the mgmt team are working on a longer-term management plan for the cemeteries together, taking advice from the borough's ecological regeneration manager and others. One of the members working on this is a leading member of Friends of Nunhead, and knows his stuff.

As others have commented, it's always easy to snipe from the sidelines, but much better to get involved in the group and work together to improve the cemeteries. FOBLC welcome new members - they meet regularly at the Envirowork Depot on Brockley Grove. Do take a look at their excellent blog too.

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