Works to the Cox’s Walk footbridge

Position Statement by London Wildlife Trust
7th November 2019
  • The Trust acknowledges the need to repair Cox’s Walk footbridge; it is a popular and important feature of the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill Woods;
  • The footbridge helps prevent damage to habitats in this part of the Wood, by preventing trampling and erosion – this area supports populations of sweet woodruff, uncommon in this part of London;
  • We have objected to the removal of the two oaks, and have asked Southwark Council to consider alternative options that avoid the loss of the oaks;
  • We have liaised with the Council to help ensure that if works proceed that these minimise damage to the woodland;
  • We support the decision on 7th November 2019 to halt proceedings so that further options can be explored and further engagement can take place;
  • The Bridge was formally closed on 27th January pending further investigations, and route diversion signs put in place by the Council; we are reviewing these and putting in place other signage as required to encourage visitors to keep to the paths. It means however, there is no circular route through the Wood over the Bridge until further notice;



London Wildlife Trust has managed Sydenham Hill Wood since 1982, when we opened the site as a nature reserve following a campaign to save it from development. Since then we have managed the site, on behalf of Southwark Council, for wildlife and local people.

The Cox’s Walk Footbridge was constructed to allow people to cross the Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level) railway line built in 1865, and which closed in 1954. The footbridge is of cultural and historic value, not only for its architectural merit but also the place from where the artist Camille Pissarro painted a picture of Lordship Lane station in c1871.

Southwark Council own Cox’s Walk (including the footbridge), and is the leaseholder of Sydenham Hill Wood. The footbridge allows the continuation of Cox’s Walk, a public highway, over the former railway cutting. There is access to Dulwich & Sydenham Hill Woods on either end of the footbridge, enabling a popular circuit for visitors to walk around in the Woods.

The footbridge helps to protect the woodland habitat in the railway cutting over which it crosses, which is now one of the most diverse habitats in Sydenham Hill Wood. This is the only area of the Wood where sweet woodruff grows – an ancient woodland indicator plant. It also contains field maple and hazel coppice, and the last remaining ‘railway poplar’ tree on the site, one of many once planted alongside the railway. Much effort has been expended by the Trust’s staff and volunteers to maintain this important habitat.

Repairing the footbridge

London Wildlife Trust recognises that Cox’s Walk footbridge requires work to prevent further decay and to lengthen its life.  In order to undertake restorative works to the bridge the Council propose removing two mature oaks, a semi-mature sycamore and other vegetation. Surveys for protected species – bats – have revealed no presence of roosts or bat activity in and around these trees and the footbridge. 

The Trust objected to the Council’s proposal to fell the oaks as we did not feel we had been presented with enough evidence for why they needed to be removed. The Council’s Highways team have since explained their rationale for removing the oaks – the scale of the works and the machinery required - and that should the bridge not be repaired then it would need to be closed in time due to its declining condition. Our objection to the loss of trees remains, but the impact of the bridge closing on the rest of the reserve also has to be carefully considered.

Following the halting of proceedings in November, an assessment led the Council to close the Bridge to public access on 27th January on safety grounds, until further notice. We liaised with the Council over 2019 and will continue to do so in order to help ensure that if and when works proceed that these minimise damage to the woodland and its biodiversity. Nevertheless, if works proceed we will monitor them regularly and seek for appropriate repair and restoration if required.

Alternative options

We are aware that independent engineering consultants are challenging the Council’s position that the trees need to be removed in order to repair the bridge.  The Council have stated that they would consider any feasible and cost-effective alternatives although there is a limited timescale for this consideration.  London Wildlife Trust have urged the Council to engage fully with these structural engineers and make public their findings so that it can be ascertained whether there are alternative solutions to that currently planned.     


For further information please contact Andrew Wright: