Gently does it, as flowers are moved

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The Independent Online
The painstaking and delicate task of clearing away the oceans of floral tributes left to Diana, Princess of Wales got under way yesterday.

Guides and Scouts were among the dozens of volunteers who started gently moving the flowers from the now dusty piles which line the walls of St James's Palace. It is expected to take up to six weeks to clear the tonnes of flowers, teddy bears and other tributes laid at sites all over the capital.

David Welch, chief executive of Royal Parks, the body overseeing the operation, said: "We are trying to do the job in the most sensitive way possible. We want to remove the flowers and tributes with the same spirit that they were laid. It really is a massive task and we have had to take on extra staff ... to help with the work. There will be about 100 people working on the clear-up process every day."

Wearing plastic gloves, volunteers were carefully separating the freshly- laid blooms from the floods of decaying bundles and loading them on to a horse-drawn dray to be delivered to hospitals around London. The rest were put into plastic buckets to be used as compost in the Palace's gardens.

Craig Huddleston, 13, of the 1st London Colney Scout Group, said: "It's a really sad job. I'd seen all the flowers on television but it's far more moving to be here in real life. Some of the messages people have written are lovely and it's amazing because they have come from people all over the world."

The labels, messages and cards were being taken to a site in Regent's Park and dried and stored until the Spencer family has decided how best to preserve them. Toys and other gifts will be distributed to a range of needy causes around the country.

Val Dorren, of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, said: "There is a very melancholy atmosphere as we work. It is hard not to be moved as a lot of the messages are from children and they really bring a tear to the eye. The most touching tribute I've handled today was a picture with the words `Our angel Princess Diana sitting on a cloud in heaven'."

The clearance operation is expected to begin at Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace today.