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.