The restoration of Dulwich Park, reported elsewhere in this issue, is a matter for thanks and rejoicing. Thanks for the money provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a fund no doubt subscribed to in the form of lottery tickets by many of the Park's users. Of course it was a totally insane policy which led to the neglect of the upkeep of Dulwich Park, once the jewel in the crown of the London County Council's parks' department. At Dulwich, as elsewhere, money was diverted from the park's budget towards a number of highly dubious alternative objectives.
At Dulwich, the first cost-cutting measure was the withdrawal of the uniformed park keeper service, this was followed by the cancellation of any organised programme of activities - tennis coaching, putting - and then boating was withdrawn. The appearance of the park was changed by the reduction in the number of flower beds and the ending of maintenance of the rhododendron plantations.
Public parks were a Victorian invention. They were intended to provide a place for fresh air and exercise in crowded cities, a place for contemplation and quiet reflection, a place to walk in, to meet, to mingle, a place for the young to let off steam. They were established through considerable effort by far-sighted people who were just like those people today who have campaigned so long and hard for their park's restoration. That parks should have been allowed to deteriorate, and in so doing provide an opportunity for further despoliation by mindless hooligans, will puzzle future social historians.
Nor was this neglect confined to Dulwich Park. Other parks like Sydenham Wells Park, Peckham Park, Sunray Gardens and Brockwell Park became overgrown, litter-ridden, unfriendly places. A few, like Ruskin Park, Belair and Horniman's Play Park still need nurturing today. It seems incomprehensible that in heavily populated boroughs like Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth, where the density is everyday increased by the building or conversion of houses into flats, a policy should exist which would deny its inhabitants the means of enjoying open space, gardens and playing fields. Not of course that this was a local issue, indeed it has become a national scandal and happily local authorities are widely beginning to address it.
The widespread neglect of public parks and gardens was eventually challenged by groups of residents who felt frustrated and powerless as they saw their parks' fabric crumble. And so the 'Friends of this or that park' were formed. Without them at Dulwich, Peckham or Brockwell Parks, there might not have been the means to raise either the awareness of the problem or the hard cash needed to compliment the grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Friends of various parks may actually not have a future once their park is hopefully transformed, and there is some evidence of membership slipping away once this has been achieved. This probably does not matter, providing local authorities continue to hold on to their rediscovered awareness of the importance of public parks and open spaces.
One of the biggest problems affecting green space in Dulwich - the relationship between trees and subsidence - is to be examined at an evening debate-cum-conference to be held in The Old Library, Dulwich College, on September 28. Everybody is welcome to what is expected to be an informative and illuminating evening.
The conference is being organised by the Wildlife and Trees Committees because of the growing concern about the dangers posed to Dulwich's tree heritage by subsidence claims. The numbers of claims seems to be growing, trees are often - and wrongly - blamed, and insurance companies frequently react by demanding their removal.
Recent worrying cases include many larger, older trees - the type that give Dulwich much of its character - in prominent positions in Court Lane, Dulwich Village, College Road and the Alleyn's School perimeter. Concern centres not only on the quality of the evidence - proximity of a tree or even the presence of roots in a damaged area is often taken as proof of causation - but on the tendency for all parties to view the removal of the tree as the solution of first recourse.
In fact, the fundamental causes are a combination of shrinkable clay soils, climate change and soil desiccation, poor foundations and expansion of the built footprint - backlands infill or householders' building extensions too near trees, for example. And whereas householders might once have accepted a certain to-and-fro movement between summer and winter, modern residents tend to want static perfection to their interior décor.
Many of Dulwich's "forest trees", not least the horse chestnuts that are such a distinctive feature of the village are already under from stress from drought and disease (see overleaf). The worry is that subsidence claims, wrongly handled, could in the longer term mean that bigger trees simply become unfeasible near buildings. Given the role trees play in "air-conditioning" - providing shade, coolness and moisture and also hovering up pollution - this would be a sad day for the look and feel of Dulwich. It wouldn't be too good for our pockets either, since trees are estimated at add up to 18 per cent to the value of nearby properties.
The aim of the conference is to clarify the issues as sharply as possible for the benefit of residents and householders. The conference opens its doors at 7.30pm. It will be chaired by His Honour Michael Rich QC, the Society's president, and a specialist in planning matters. Speakers will include Jim Smith the Forestry Commission's London trees and woodlands framework manager, and Peter Osborne, a specialist in insurance cases involving tees and subsidence. It is also hoped to have speakers from Norwich Union - the Dulwich Estate's insurers, and specialist legal firms Representatives from the Estate and from Southwark Council's trees department are also being invited.
David Nicholson-Lord, Wildlife and Trees Committees
Concern has been expressed by a number of residents over the plight of many of the Horse Chestnut trees throughout Dulwich, and indeed, London.
Leaves appear scorched, and finally shrivel and turn brown, giving the impression that the tree is dying. There is also an infestation of small flies around the trees which are extremely annoying. The flies are actually very small moths known as Horse chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria Ohridella) which was first observed in Northern Greece in the late 1970's and has since spread throughout Europe, arriving in Wimbledon during 2002.
Leaf fall as early as August can result in the tree appearing autumnal although so far no trees have died or declined in health as a direct consequence of attack by the moth, however, the added stress to a tree causes concern especially in drought conditions'
There is no known cure for the pest, but limited research has established that leaves should be collected after dropping and either burnt or well dug in to compost. The pupae appear to be extremely frost tolerant, reportedly surviving in temperatures as low as -23C in Hungary. It has been estimated that 1 kg of over wintering leaves could result in the emergence of 4500 moths the following spring. It is therefore essential to destroy affected leaves where possible.
Trees Consultant, The Dulwich Estate
The Dulwich Society Trees Committee have invited Professor Julian Evans OBE who was formerly the Forestry Commission's Chief Research officer, to talk about the trees of the National Trust and also about his experiences in maintaining his own piece of private woodland, on Thursday 19 October at 8pm at the St Barnabas Centre, Calton Avenue.