Battle to save ancient Dulwich oaks hots up as town hall looks to oust tree defenders

Protestors trying to block centuries-old Dulwich trees from being felled, for a bridge to be repaired, face being ousted from their tents by bailiffs.

Southwark Council has applied for an interim injunction to stop campaigners blocking its plans to fell two healthy oaks in Sydenham Hill Wood in Dulwich, thought to be 155 and 115 years old.

They sit on either side of the western end of a footbridge on Cox’s Walk – the council says they must be felled so the bridge can be repaired. 

But campaigners, who have been guarding the trees for nine days and have racked up more than 5,200 signatures on their petition to save them, say it is “not inevitable” that the oaks can’t be saved and felling them is an “active choice” by the council.   

The Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign was launched after the council gave itself planning permission to fell the trees in January 2019. 

It has produced an alternative proposal for the bridge repairs, arguing the trees could be saved by using hand tools instead of bringing large machinery into the woods. 

Southwark rejected the proposal, estimating it would cost half a million pounds, though it has not provided a cost breakdown. 

On the day the trees were due to be chopped down last week, two men arrived with a chainsaw but were fended off by campaigners.  

But now the council has gone to the High Court to try to get the campaigners out of its way.  

A notice of the application “to prevent obstruction of the felling of the oak trees”, dated November 23, has been tied to the trees.  

If the High Court approves the injunction and the campaigners are found in breach of it, they could face jail or fines.  

Backers of the Save Oaks campaign have described the council’s actions as “cavalier” and “tone deaf”.  

Councillor Catherine Rose, cabinet member for leisure, environment and roads, told the local democracy service: “We have taken two years to explore other options, but, much as it saddens us, no viable alternative to our current plans has presented itself.  

“We now need to safely complete repairs to the bridge, reopen the footpath and again make Cox’s Walk accessible to all.” 

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