Pruning to Kill – Chelsea Elm 12th Feb 2018

three-chelsea-road-elm750x455.jpgTense standoff expected as Sheffield Council come to severely prune rare elm tree, ahead of felling it
Date: 11/02/18

CONTACT: Paul Selby – 07973 228365;

  1. This Monday 12th February, Sheffield Council intend to attack a rare and
    competition winning heritage tree, the Chelsea Road elm tree, as they
    begin their recently announced process to fell it
  2. Local residents are furious about the lack of engagement and intend to
    block all work until there is proper engagement
  3. Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust have strongly criticised the
  4.  Free specialist tree care was offered to the Council by experts, but was
  5. The battle over this tree symbolises increasing lack of trust in Sheffield
    Council about wider issues, as a growing non-party political movement

Local Nether Edge residents are furious with Sheffield Council for their arrogant
behaviour and lack of engagement about the threatened Chelsea Road elm tree.

On Monday 12th February, Sheffield Council and Amey have said they will come to
the tree to carry out what they call “essential safety pruning.

Residents strongly dispute this. Paul Selby, who has led the efforts to highlight the
importance of this tree says:
“It is now 53 weeks since the Council agreed to talk to me or anyone else in the
community about working collaboratively to save this tree. They know the strong
feelings from local residents about this rare and important tree and rare butterfly
colony. But instead of logically discussing the evidence based options that remain
available, instead they have chosen confrontation.”

The Council claim that the tree is badly decayed and dangerous. Paul quotes from
an independent report commissioned by the Council itself:
“The Council’s own independently commissioned reports say the tree is in good
health, and that all that is needed is some canopy thinning. They identify only one
branch with decay of particular note. The report says the branch is ‘within current
scientific observations for potential failure, though there were no features in the bark to indicate the beginnings of such.’”

The Council claim that campaigners will be to blame if local residents block any
pruning. Fellow local resident Anne Barr says:
“I have spoken at length to hundreds of local residents, something the Council have
failed to do. None of us dispute the need for one branch to be removed in the near
future, nor the need for gradual canopy thinning over time. But local residents have
simply lost all trust in the Council and Amey. They have lied repeatedly to residents,
and failed to talk to us. As a result, and until they properly engage with us, we will not
allow any work to proceed. We simply do not trust them.

We know the Council PR department will accuse us of preventing essential safety
work. If it was so essential, why didn’t they work collaboratively with us sixteen
months ago when the most decayed branch was first spotted?

In September, elm experts contact the Council to say they would carry out the
careful pruning of the tree for free, to minimise the risks of it catching Dutch Elm
Disease. The intransigent Council refused.”

The real reason the Council are suddenly so desperate to prune the tree is because
they have suddenly realised that the rare White Letter Hairstreak butterfly eggs will
hatch into caterpillars in just two weeks’ time. Once they hatch, translocation of the
butterfly colony will become near impossible until September, when the colony will
again be at the egg stage of its lifecycle. Paul Selby, who is also a butterfly
enthusiast said:
“Translocation of butterfly colonies rarely works in the long term as all the academic
studies show. The Council are claiming that the Wildlife Trust support the
translocation plan. However, as the Wildlife Trust press statement says, the best way
of ensuring the survival of the colony is to retain the tree, and carefully manage it.
The Trust are only reluctantly helping the translocation efforts because the Council
have been so intransigent in insisting the tree will ultimately be felled.”

A tense standoff is expected at the elm when the Amey arborists arrive on the corner
of Chelsea Road and Union Road in Nether Edge on Monday morning.

All of this tension between the local community and Sheffield Council highlights an
emerging city wide movement against party politics, which has its origins in the street
tree campaign, most notably the “It’s Our City” movement.

For more information contact Paul Selby – 07973 228365;

Appendix – Additional Useful Information

Why is the tree important?
1. It is a rare 120 year old survivor tree. 60 million of its species have been killed by
Dutch Elm Disease (DED) since the 1920s.
2. Less than 1000 old elms survive in the UK, outside of the cordon sanitaire zones
in Brighton and Edinburgh
3. It is host to a colony of the rare White Letter Hairstreak butterfly, a species that
can only survive on elm trees, and which has declined by 97% since the 1970s
4. The tree was Silver Medal winner in the 2016 English Tree of the Year

Why do the Council want to fell the tree?
1. Their original reason for felling was damage to the road and pavement
2. There is no doubt that some damage is being done, but nothing a simple repair
job would not correct on this quiet residential road junction
3. Amey have quoted £50,000 for a “bespoke” engineering solution, but an
independent engineer employed by the campaign quoted between £1500 and
£3500 for the same solution
4. To be fair, Amey later offered to do a “patch and repair” job on the junction for
free. The Council have yet to explain why they refused this
5. More recently, the Council have suggested the tree is “dangerous” and needs to
be felled. They have suggested independent arborist reports said the tree was
“badly decayed.”

Why do tree campaigners dispute the need to fell the tree?
1. The Council still have not answered why the free “patch and repair” job offered
by Amey has been refused.
2. Under pressure from the campaign, the Council has published the independent
arborist reports, which say the tree is in “good health.” The reports mention a
single branch which is soft and needs removing, and the fact the canopy needs
thinning to remove any further chances of decay where the tree was previously
pruned 20 years ago
3. As a very rare tree, host to a rare butterfly, everything should be done to protect
the tree, and the habitat it provides, in its current state
What is the official Council plan?
4. The Council plan is to severely prune the tree, to remove the “severe decay” in
February 2018, and completely fell it in summer 2018
5. As the severe pruning is taking place, under the guidance of experts from
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, the plan is to inspect each branch
removed for butterfly eggs, and to remove any eggs found, translocating them to
a different elm tree (or trees)
6. The Council also plan to take cuttings from the elm tree, cultivate them, and to
plant these across the city.

Why do tree campaigners disagree with this plan?
1. Apart from the complete disagreement with the need to fell the tree in summer
2018 (reasons already described above), the Council plan is flawed for three
2. Firstly, severely pruning the tree will almost certainly mean the tree is unable to
fight off an attack from the elm bark beetle (and therefore Dutch Elm Disease)
next spring, and will die. Huntingdon Elms are resistant but not immune to the
3. Secondly, whilst butterfly translocation plans can be successful in the short term,
they are rarely successful in the long term. The new host tree(s) to the
translocated butterfly eggs are unlikely to be resistant Dutch Elm Disease, and
given the current epidemic sweeping the city, are likely to die from the disease in
the next five years, leaving nowhere for the butterfly to lay its eggs on
4. Thirdly, the cuttings the Council plan to take are likely to die from Dutch Elm
Disease as soon as they reach maturity. Huntingdon Elms are resistant to the
disease when they are much older and able to “cut off” the disease by “selfsacrificing”
six feet of branches that have been infected. Young trees do not
have long enough branches to “self-sacrifice” and so the whole tree dies.

In summary, what do the tree campaigners want the Council to do?
1. Firstly we want them to have a full, transparent and honest conversation
2. Secondly, we want them to implement the free “patch and repair” pavement and
road solution which Amey has offered
3. Thirdly, we agree that the one badly decayed branch needs removing, to remove
any immediate danger
4. Fourthly, we want elm experts to be consulted so that a mutually agreed canopy
thinning plan can be implemented over a number of years. This plan to achieve
the aims of:
a) maximising the chances of the butterfly colony surviving;
b) minimising the chances of the tree being killed by Dutch Elm Disease; and
c) removing any weaker branches that may become unsafe as time goes by

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Blog, Citywide Tree Preservation Order, Healthy Felling, News, Uncategorized
5 comments on “Pruning to Kill – Chelsea Elm 12th Feb 2018
  1. […] Chelsea Road Elm Imminent Vandalism Mon 12th Feb and how to support: However the big low from last week was the Council announcing plans to come and severely prune the Chelsea Road elm tree this coming Monday 12th February. In their press release, the Council are saying they are only doing essential safety work. This is a complete lie! Nobody in the campaign disputes the need for one decayed branch to be removed in the short term, nor the need for careful canopy pruning spread over a number of years, but the Council intend to do severe pruning tomorrow, which will wipe out the butterfly colony on the tree, and expose the tree to Dutch Elm Disease. Full details can be found in the press release here. […]


  2. Lorraine Cox says:

    We in Bristol are in firm agreement with the Sheffield City Tree Protectors. What you have reported here makes perfect sense. It seems the council is careless of its gross reputation locally and nationwide, while Amey at least is trying to protect this one isolated rare and beautiful elm tree. It is not without horror and dismay that we have followed the widespread felling events in the city of Sheffield these last two years. May this situation never be replicated in any other UK city. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly support the people of Sheffield who are striving with every effort to communicate, not to break the law, and to strive with all its energy and expertise to protect our nation’s lovely mature trees. Today, we do NOT want democracy trampled underfoot along with a critically endangered butterfly and the branches of a remarkable and beautiful DED-survivor elm.
    Kindest regards, Lorraine Cox, Bristol.


  3. […] colony of the butterfly is threatened with extinction in Sheffield, where campaigners are fighting to save a rare surviving English elm. Sheffield council wants to drastically prune the tree as part of its controversial PFI contract to […]


  4. Margaret Byrne says:

    What’s wrong with you Sheffield council? This tree needs protecting and your proposed actions are threatening a rare butterfly. Why would you want to turn Sheffield into a wasteland?


  5. […] They nest in heavily-wooded areas, or even on clumps of trees in urban centers. Some 200 miles away, for example, there is a butterfly colony has taken up residence in the middle of a town and sparked up quite a bit of controversy.  […]


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