In December the Dulwich Estate agreed to a 25 year lease of the site of Beechgrove to the London Wildlife Trust. Formerly it was the home of speech therapist Lionel Logue and where HM King George VI was treated for his speech impediment which was the subject of the award-winning film ‘The King’s Speech’.
The future of the Beechgrove site had also been the subject of a long-running battle between the Dulwich Society and the Estate, the Estate wishing to develop it for housing and the Society seeking its reincorporation into Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Wood. Despite going to an appeal, the Estate lost their building application and the extensive area has lain dormant since the house itself was demolished over 30 years ago.
In this time wildlife in the former extensive garden has flourished and benign neglect, has allowed trees and plants to rejuvenate. It is therefore very good news that the Estate has taken the course of leasing the land to such a worthy cause. Volunteers are now being mustered to remove some dense stands of rhododendrons and cherry laurel from the area. The Trust has also said that it will ‘smarten up the roadside boundaries of Beechgrove in keeping with the rest of Sydenham Hill Wood’.
Now that the Dulwich Estate has leased the site of Beechgrove, it would make a lot of sense to off-load Dulwich Wood as well. In the distant past there was no boundary between what has come to be known as Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood. It is an artificial distinction to differentiate between that part of the woods that the Estate has already leased to the LWT and the part it continues to manage itself. Sydenham Hill Wood is in reality made up of the sites of the 5 large houses and gardens which reached from Sydenham Hill almost to the former railway line.
Dulwich Wood, which is maintained by the Estate through the Scheme of Management, has always been managed woodland and its area is irregularly demarcated by a line of posts, roughly following the western embankment of the track-bed of the former High Level railway line to Crystal Palace. The track-bed itself is part of a nature trail established by the LWT. Naturally, before the railway line was laid down soon after the Crystal Place opened in 1854 and the houses built, the whole area was one wood.
Such a course would allow the LWT to consider the entire wood holistically, establish new trails, and extend its programme of walks and talks into what is, undoubtedly, truer woodland than the area it presently maintains. For the Estate, it would relieve its already overburdened Scheme of Management office of a task which some might consider to be out of its area of expertise. The proportion of the annual charge devoted to maintain the woods, paid by Dulwich’s freeholders to the Scheme could be diverted to the LWT.
Such a solution would save time, effort and money all round.