Is there ever a quiet week in the street tree campaign? There doesn’t seem to be!
Good news – Chelsea Road Elm:
The majority of the last few campaign weeks has been spent on the Chelsea Road elm tree. Being a rare survivor tree of the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease (DED), and host to a colony of the rare White Letter Hairstreak butterfly has made it arguably the most important of all Sheffield’s street trees.
Since February 2017, up until last week, Sheffield Council had refused to discuss the fate of the tree with the Campaign, explicitly telling us that the tree was not a special tree deserving of special treatment, despite all national experts saying it was.
A dedicated bunch of 40+ supporters standing in freezing cold for hours prevented a severe pruning on 12th February, but this was the first step towards felling the tree completely, despite Sheffield Council continue reporting to the press that they don’t intend to fell the tree, however their published plan says that they still do intend to fell it. Council Officers have also told the campaign they still plan to fell it. Darren Butt, head of Amey, admitted as much recently on the street, please see this excellent YouTube video created by our loyal supporter David Glass, and judge for yourselves the truth.
On 16th February, the campaign was invited to a series of meetings with Darren Butt (Head of Amey in Sheffield) and Paul Billington (from Sheffield Council), brokered by Liz Ballard (Chief Executive of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust). Campaigners have never disagreed with the need for pruning of the tree. The problem though is that the pruning risked killing the tree from DED (the tree is resistant but not immune), and risked wiping out the butterfly colony. So the pruning needed to be sensitive rather the extensive severe pruning originally planned.
Thankfully what was offered by Amey, and agreed by Sheffield Council was 90% of what we had been asking for. Many in the campaign were very nervous about the intentions of Amey and the Council, having been lied to repeatedly, with trust low, and it took an incredible amount of trust to allow the pruning to go ahead. The pruning did go ahead on Friday was was actually less than had originally been planned, thanks to the patience and expertise of the Amey tree pruning crew on the day, backed up by the independent arborist that the campaign hired, and the efforts of the campaigners attending on the day. A rare example of cooperation and trust!
The tree will now be monitored for six to twelve months as it is still a host to the butterfly, and felling is suspended during that period. Whether or not the suspension of felling can be turned into a permanent reprieve is something for another day.
Not so good news – Felling restarting and Police presence:
Sadly though, that’s an end to the good news. On Monday, it has been announced that the tree felling crews will return across the city, after a five week pause. This has been announced in the media. Next week there are parking restriction notices on Thornsett Road, Kenwood Road, Kenwood Park Road, St Ronan’s Road, and for the Plane tree on the corner of Chelsea Road/Adelaide Road. Also Thompson Road and Khartoum Road (just off Ecclesall Road) and Banner Cross Road (just off Ecclesall Road South). So these are the most likely roads for potential felling attempts, albeit we know that hit and run felling attempts are still sometimes attempted.
The important news is that the Police have announced they will be back with a much greater presence. In some ways, this is a good thing, as they will be more closely monitoring if/when the private security guards stray into the use of inappropriate force, as can be seen here, and making them take clear steps of escalation spread over time. However in many other ways it is a bad thing, as their interpretation of the laws is not always correct, as we have seen many times this last few years.
Peaceful campaigners seeking to protect trees will therefore need to be more careful than ever to stay within the law. Even the hint of criminal damage (slight bending of safety barriers) or breaches of Section 303 of the Highways Act, or assault (just touching a security officer can be classed as assault) are likely to be cracked down upon with arrest, quickly.
More details about what is likely to occur at felling sites this next few weeks can be found at the following web link:
In other bad news, two of the most prominent campaigners have had warning letters sent to them by Sheffield Council suggesting that they had breached the injunction and requesting a response, before they are taken to court. It is not at all clear that these people did breach the injunction, but that hasn’t stopped the Council from taking people to court on tenuous or fabricated evidence before.
You may have missed it in all the fuss about the elm, but another campaigner was convicted of breaching the injunction this week. They were fined £11,000 in costs and given a two month custodial sentence, suspended for a year. All for only ten minutes spent in the safety zone. Very sad.
Powerful “Before and After” video:
You may also be interested in the below link to a video, which collates all the Before and photoshopped “Imagined After” photos of our streets denuded of the threatened street trees.
The video is incredibly powerful. A huge thanks to one of our lovely supporters who has tirelessly spent tens of hours over a period of nearly ten months to do the photoshopping work. We are hugely grateful, and this all came from a brief conversation we had with her at one of our Public Meetings!
Next Public Meeting:
Talking of which, finally, just a reminder about the Public Meeting this coming Monday 26th February in the upstairs room at the Banner Cross Pub. As usual, please aim to arrive for 7.45pm ready for an 8pm prompt start. And as usual, there will be a lot to discuss!