“As many of you will know, I have been part of the campaign to save Sheffield’s street trees for nearly two years now, working first on just the Chelsea Road elm tree, but for the last year on the wider whole city campaign.
During this time, I have seen a number of comments on Forums, or in Public Meetings, criticising the Woodland Trust (and other conservation charities) for their supposed lack of support and/or intervention in the issue. In my opinion this is totally unfair and I’d like to set the record straight.
To be clear, I’m not actually a member of the Woodland Trust or an employee of theirs, nor am I being paid by them to write this article. I’ve simply become a fan of the organisation through my contact with them over the last two years, and feel their efforts need to be recognised.
Firstly, people need to understand the primary (and original) purpose of the Woodland Trust. The clue is in the title. Its primary focus is on ancient woodlands across the UK. These ancient woodlands are under renewed threat, with the proposed High Speed 2 railway ploughing through many ancient woodlands, and the large increase in road building and bypasses also doing similar damage. Only more recently has the Woodland Trust widened its focus to include the “urban treescape.” There are so many priorities for this national charity, and they should not be criticised for not focusing on Sheffield street trees every minute of every day.
Secondly, people need to understand that campaigns are not won solely by shouting from the rooftops and criticising those doing the wrong directly in the media. Doing so destroys trust, sets off defence mechanisms, and polarises the situation. Don’t forget the Woodland Trust has other initiatives with Sheffield City Council that need to be fostered and maintained, perhaps for 100 or more years. These must not be put at risk as a result of a hot headed public spat. It can often be much better to have quiet conversations with decision makers in the background, outside the glare of the media.
So what have the Woodland Trust done for Sheffield street trees? Their first major involvement came as a result of their Chief Executive Beccy Speight appearing on BBC breakfast television in March 2016. Through the power of social media, I was able to contact her directly through LinkedIn about the Chelsea Road elm. I did so as I didn’t think she was aware of this rare special tree and the threat to it. She wasn’t, and responded to me the same day, putting me in contact with senior people who worked for her. Over the next four months, I worked with them to formulate an idea to celebrate this special tree, and to allow people to see the rare White Letter Hairstreak butterfly that lives on the tree. Not only was their advice about running/organising public events extremely helpful, but they also funded the event, to the tune of £750. As a result, 350 people turned up to climb to the top of the open top bus I hired, to stand in the canopy and see the butterfly in flight.
Some great contacts were made that day, and as a result, a fellow campaigner shared an idea about holding a photography exhibition celebrating Sheffield street trees more generally. Five months later, with lots of advice and over £1000 of funding from the Woodland Trust, there was an amazing opening night, and week-long exhibition, at a lovely boutique central Sheffield art gallery.
The same contacts I made through the elm event have also been on hand for advice ever since. I’ve had multiple further informal conversations with them on the phone, where we’ve shared ideas and advice about the wider campaign. Sheffield is just the most high profile example of street tree felling on a mass scale across the whole of the UK. So not only are we benefiting from some of their insight, but they are from us too.
Very recently, the Woodland Trust have also supported the new Street Tree Art Sheffield (STARTS) initiative, helping it to become a Tree Charter branch. This new Sheffield group is all about sitting on street pavements, drawing or painting the nearby street trees to celebrate their beauty. Not only are newbie painters learning from the more experienced, but there is a calm sense of mindfulness in taking careful considered time to study and then draw/paint the trees.
Quietly in the background, they have also been raising the profile of the plight of Sheffield street trees with all their media contacts and fellow conservation organisations. The most recent example of this is their efforts to coordinate the signing of a letter of support and endorsement backing a Sheffield Tree Action Groups plea to national government. Their coordination of the letter of support has led to tens of other conservation organisations and charities backing us.
I hope all of the above demonstrates just how much effort the Woodland Trust have put into the Sheffield street tree campaign, much of it in the background, often not visible to members of the general public.
Of course this is just the Woodland Trust. There are many more conservation organisations that have been brilliant too. I can’t name them all, as there are too many, but I’ll name the ones I’ve worked directly with personally:
- Trees for Cities
- Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust
- The Conservation Foundation
- Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the Sheffield street tree campaign, I will be forever indebted to the four organisations above, and the Woodland Trust. So much of what we achieved would not have been possible without them and their support.”
– Paul Selby, of Save Nether Edge Trees.