6 AM fellings and attempts to jail protestors: this is not a fresh approach

The recent Sheffield City Council elections were a powerful repudiation of council’s tree-felling policies and use of police in the service of multinational corporation Amey: Green Councillor Alison Teal, who the council has repeatedly and erroneously attempted to jail, increased her majority from 8 to nearly 1400.

Despite only a fraction of seats being up for re-election, most of them very safe for Labour, the party lost seats particulary in areas with lots of felling, and saw majorities in formerly safe wards drastically reduced.

Shortly after the election, Cabinet Member for the environment Brian Lodge resigned. He claimed this was due to the abusive tactics of protestors, but could not cite any evidence of such — instead pointing to harassment councillors experienced before there was a tree campaign. The “pause” in fellings continued. This had been called just before the election. It was supposedly due to protestors’ increasingly dangerous tactics — a bizarre claim coming on the heels of disorder arrests of middle-aged women for tooting plastic instruments while chainsaws were running, and a vicar’s arrest for assault with tambourine. As the pause continued, so did revelations in the press.

Just before the pause, we had already learned that — despite claiming otherwise — the contract with Amey contained a requirement that half of Sheffield’s street trees be felled. Then, after years of refusing to reveal it, the council was forced to publish the contents of the contract’s Highway Tree ReplacementPolicy. This, it had been repeatedly asserted, called for trees to be felled only as a last resort, if certain conditions (“The Six Ds”) held. Now we learned that the policy contained no such commitment. Instead, Amey would be allowed to fell any trees it chose, with the only specification being that replacements would be low maintenance. Campaigners had long suspected that healthy trees were being felled in order to save on maintenance costs, and now it was confirmed. These two revelations were hugely significant — not least because they showed claims that the council relied on in court to be false. These claims had played a crucial role in bringing about the injunction the council received in Summer 2017 preventing campaigners from entering or remaining in fully erected safety barriers around trees to be felled. The ruling had been based on false testimony.

With these revelations, and the clear electoral verdict on the council’s behaviour, there was reason to hope that things were about to change. Lewis Dagnall, the newly appointed Cabinet Member for the Environment, promised “a fresh approach”and “compromise”.Campaigners began to think that negotiations — long requested — might be approaching. They began to hope that the injunction and the court cases based on it might be dropped, now that their false (and arguably deceptive) underpinnings were revealed.

And yet, Sunday morning at 6AM on 21 May, we awoke to the news that all four trees in Fitzalan Square had been felled. Amongst the only mature trees in the city centre, these had been specifically designated as important to retain. The council Tree Officer wrote:

“The city centre has the lowest percentage tree cover in Sheffield and there are relatively few large trees within the area. Visually, the trees provide a natural living feature that helps to soften the harsh lines of the existing built environment. The trees play an important role in trapping and removing pollutants from the surrounding air as well as providing dappled shade for users of the square. The canopies also help to break up wind movement that may otherwise funnel between the buildings. All four trees are well established with a significant potential longevity. All are considered to be in their prime.”

Clearly, the council knew that this felling, which went against the guidance they had received, would be unpopular. And yet they went ahead.

And then, on 21 May, we learned that — far from abandoning the fraudulently based injunction — the council was taking four protestors to court for violating it, and seeking prison terms. Even though it is now clear that the felling programme is committed to destroying half the street trees in Sheffield, simply to save maintenance costs. Even though it’s obvious that the council made false claims about this, in court, when seeking the injunction that is being used for the prosecution. Even though it’s also apparent that the “last resort” claim — equally important to the court case — was absolutely untrue. Unbelievably, while claiming to want a “fresh start” and to “restore trust”, on June 5 the council will attempt to jail four protestors for up to two years each.

A fresh start that restores trust would be an excellent thing. This behaviour is nothing like that.

https://medium.com/@jennifersaul/6-am-fellings-and-attempts-to-jail-protestors-this-is-not-a-fresh-approach-f1ff467cc677

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

Sheffield Council’s secret policy for tree-felling revealed

Sheffield Council’s secret contract for the controversial felling of thousands of street trees focuses on minimising maintenance costs while containing no mention of removals only happening as a “last resort” as the authority has repeatedly claimed in the past, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

The council’s Highway Tree Replacement Policy has been made public today after The Yorkshire Post requested an internal review of a decision to keep the document secret last month.

The removal of thousands of trees and their replacement with saplings is part of a 25-year highways maintenance contract between the council and a company called Amey which started in 2012. Around 6,000 trees have been felled so far.

It was revealed in March the contract contains a target to remove 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees ‘in accordance with the Highway Tree Replacement Policy, unless authority [Sheffield Council] approval has been obtained for deviation from this policy’.

The council subsequently confirmed the contract figure has not been altered but council leader Julie Dore has since said less than 17,500 trees will be removed. Work is currently on hold while a review takes place following a national outcry after dozens of police officers and private security guards were sent out to support operations earlier this year.

The contract policy, which is less than two pages long, contains no mention of the so-called ‘6 Ds’ – the criteria the council had previously said is used for deciding whether to remove trees, assessing if they are deemed to be dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging or ‘discriminatory’ in preventing wheelchairs and prams for using the pavement.

There is also no mention of a series of engineering solutions to save trees that the council previously said could be used under the contract to save threatened trees from felling.

Sheffield Council challenged to prove ‘last resort’ claims

Instead, the contract policy focuses on what new saplings are suitable to be used as replacements, with one of the key considerations ‘minimising future maintenance requirements and nuisance’ – including a ‘preference for small leaves’ in choosing replacements.

It adds that ‘all tree replacement work shall be carried out in accordance with good arboricultural practice’ and the requirements of British Standards Institution for tree work.

It says that where felling is planned, ‘there shall be a period of consultation with residents to ensure they are fully aware of the replacement proposals and have sufficient opportunity to make comments or suggestions regarding the proposals’, while the choice of replacement saplings should aim to maintain ‘the visual and historical integrity of the tree planting’ on affected streets

The Yorkshire Post says: Truth being rooted out on trees

Tree campaigner Paul Selby said today: “I think the biggest shock for me in reading this is just how short, vague and high level it is. It leaves Amey with huge freedom to do pretty much whatever they want.

“The history of this dates back to the 2010 period when everything was starting to come together and they were thinking it was a great idea to get rid of half the trees. The document is all about what they are going to be replaced with, it doesn’t really care about what is coming down.”

The policy contrasts with the council’s Five Year Tree Management Strategy, which was published in 2016 and says tree-felling is a ‘last resort’, with engineering solutions to save them considered first. But an FOI response earlier this year confirmed the contract supersedes the strategy if there is a conflict between them, leading campaigners to describe the latter document as ‘worthless’.

Last month, Paul Brooke, co-chair of the Sheffield Trees Action Groups, accused the council of fabricating the strategy document, which was cited in a 2016 court decision to rule out a judicial review of felling operations in the city.

The strategy was first made public in early 2016, shortly before tree campaigner Dave Dillner went to High Court to seek a judicial review of council decisions. In April 2016, Mr Justice Gilbart rejected the application as ‘misconceived’ after citing the strategy, which had been brought to the court’s attention by Mr Dillner, as an “important document” in assessing the council’s approach to felling.

The five-year strategy for 2012 to 2017 lists six previous versions of it dating back to February 2013 on its opening page. But a subsequent Freedom of Information request by campaigners to see the previous versions was initially rejected on the grounds they were “commercially sensitive”. The council subsequently revised its position to say the information was “not held” in any form and said there was no statutory requirement or “business purpose” to retain earlier versions of the document.

Sheffield Council said documents used in the proceedings contained “legitimate information” and categorically rejected the suggested there had been an attempt to mislead the court after Mr Brooke said at a press conference that he believed the document had been produced “to provide positive evidence” for the High Court case.

Sheffield Council today said the information guiding felling decisions is found in its tree management strategy.

When asked by The Yorkshire Post if there was anywhere else in the contract outside the Highway Tree Replacement Policy that set out felling is a last resort and includes details of the ‘6 Ds’ criteria or the engineering solutions, a council spokeswoman said: “We won’t be adding anything further on this occasion other than to say that the information is available online in the Highway Tree Management Strategy.”

Original article here:

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/sheffield-council-s-secret-policy-for-tree-felling-revealed-1-9167600

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STAG Steering Group meeting: 1st May 2018

Action notes

1. STAG and SCC conversations
1.1 A number of informal conversations have taken place between STAG co-chairs and senior officers at Sheffield city council.
1.2 It is understood that Amey are preparing proposals to save more trees at no extra cost to the council. These will be submitted to the council for consideration before they may be shared with STAG.

2. Legal Updates
2.1 Updates were given about potential legal cases against the city council.
2.2 Louise Timothy updated on work she and others had been doing to collate detailed information about people who had been arrested and potentially unlawfully arrested. Howells are advising on what potential actions may be taken following these arrests.

3. Urgent Fellings
3.1 There has been some issues with comms about urgent fellings that are still ongoing. It has led to some confusion and delay as Amey workers are held up while campaigners wait for further information.
3.2 Chris Rust has had conversations with Paul Billington to put in place a more structured approach to prevent this and Paul Billington has sanctioned Darren Butt to talk with Chris to agree a better comms process.

4. New Plantings
4.1 There were discussions about the new saplings being planted and whether they are suitable in all cases. Some species are not what was promised in the ITP consultation process, many are non-native and will not be similar in canopy size to the trees they are replacing.
4.2 Heather Russell agreed to set up a small subgroup to discuss this topic in more detail and agree the best way of approaching Amey and SCC about more suitable plantings.

5. New STAG Auction Site
5.1 Jane Miller has set this up but there appears to be some confusion about how it operates. Chris Rust agreed to speak to Jane to resolve things.

6. Seeds for Change
6.1 This small voluntary organisation has made an offer to Stag about organising training events. It was agreed that the offer was potentially useful and local groups are in the best position to request sessions if they want them.

7. Digital Advertising
7.1 Shelley Cockayne has been working on this plan but there have been a few delays outside of her control. Discussions took place on how the plans could be expedited.

8. Additional Tree Planting
8.1 Brief discussions took place about any crowdfunding money that may be leftover. It had always been agreed that this should be spent on additional tree planting. It was further agreed that the priority for this should be streets which currently have no trees and particularly those in more deprived areas.

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STAG Steering Group meeting: 5th April 2018

Action Notes

1. Get Off My Tree Rally and March
1.1 Dave Dillner asked SG members to put a call out for marshals to their local groups.

2. Sheffield Trees International Community (STIC)
2.1 Shelley had received contact from a man in London called Steve Andresier and had met him with Paul Hemmings.
2.2 On that basis she had invited him to the SG meeting for a guest slot to outline his idea for a new sub-group of STAG for those living outside Sheffield called Sheffield Trees International Community (STIC).
2.3 He has already created a Twitter account and Whatsapp group. His next plan is to set up an Instagram account and Facebook group.
2.4 His background is in marketing, he has links with celebrities and other prominent contacts and intends to use his network of contacts and the efforts of people living outside Sheffield who support our cause to create high-profile publicity for the campaign.
2.5 All steering group members were content to except his plan to form STIC as an affiliated group of STAG on a trial basis.

3. Chair of STAG Steering Group
3.1 Rebecca Hammond had requested to stand down from the position of co-chair some time ago. No candidate had been immediately forthcoming but recently Paul Brooke had become prepared to nominate himself for the position.
3.2 Following a discussion on the mandate of each steering group member to speak on behalf of their groups, a vote took place and, other than one abstention, there was unanimous support for Paul as co-chair.
3.3 Chris, Paul and Rebecca agreed to work together on a set of statements to be put on Facebook in the next week that announced Rebecca’s resignation and Paul’s election.

4. Minutes for STAG Steering Group and observers.
4.1 Steering Group members agreed that brief action notes of the steering group meeting should be published. Paul Hemmings agreed to prepare these but explained there would be a delay owing to holiday commitments.
4.2 On the subject of observers at Steering Group meetings, this proposal was rejected owing to the frequent sensitivity and confidentiality of topics discussed, although guests will be invited to individual agenda items where appropriate as has always been the case.

5. Legal Matters
5.1 Paul Brooke gave a very brief update on the four people facing committal proceedings for alleged breach of the injunction.
5.2 Things are still on hold because Justice Males is currently unavailable.
5.3 Chris gave a brief update on potential pro active action against the council that Stag legal group has been working on.
5.4 Paul Powlesland is prepared to provide a barristers opinion when he receives appropriate evidence.
5.5 Chris and Paul Selby agreed to work together to prompt faster action.
5.6 Paul Selby gave an update on progress on a potential legal case.

6. Moderation of Facebook Page
6.1 Steering Group re-affirmed support for the moderators who face some severe challenges at times.
6.2 Paul Brooke agreed to take up one specific issue of abuse of moderators with the person concerned and ensure that the consequences of any re-occurrence of the issue are understood.

7. Negotiations with SCC
7.1 No sign of overtures from SCC or Amey, and local Steering Group members were asked to make this clear to the groups.
7.2 It was confirmed that STAG could not and would not direct local groups how to communicate and provide forums for debate in their local areas.
7.3 It was agreed that the documents that Steering Group had agreed in November and December remained a good starting point.
7.4 Feedback from all of the local public groups on how any future negotiations should be approached would be brought back to the next STAG Steering Group meeting.

8. Funds Update
8.1 Chris gave an update on STAG funds which are now relatively healthy.
8.2 Some funds will hopefully be used to fund any proactive action which may be required.
8.3 Noted that the four people for committal proceedings will have their defence paid for by legal aid. Any resulting fines may need STAG financial support.

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Felling healthy trees is no ‘trivial matter’ – The Star

https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/your-say/felling-healthy-trees-is-no-trivial-matter-1-9159554

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#saveshefftrees #TreeTruths – Jeremy Barrell

Sheffield #TreeTruths 11: Felling will always be the last resort? Sorry, not in Sheffield. I have seen hundreds of situations where tree could have been retained and were not. #SaveSheffTrees https://t.co/mhwJSnNoAV

Sheffield #TreeTruths 10: Felling heritage trees planted 90+ years ago in memory of WWI dead can be mitigated by planting new trees in parks? No, No, No. Get a grip. It is the physical link to the past and bridge to the future that is of value, not a label!

Sheffield #TreeTruths 9: Street trees make pollution worse not better? Really, that’s not what the bulk of the high quality research suggests! If that’s true, then why has Singapore spent decades lining its streets with millions of trees?

Sheffield #TreeTruths 8: Replacing felled street trees in nearby parks is adequate mitigation? No, I don’t think so, and neither do the researchers. The evidence shows that trees are most effective at buffering pollution right next to it, not remote from it.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 7: 80 year old trees are at the end of their life? Sorry, I don’t think so. In this photo (c1933), the tree is about 70 years old, but someone decide to keep it, not fell it. 85 years later, 3 generations have enjoyed the benefits.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 6: All removed street trees will be replaced? Not in Chatsworth Road so far! Canadian urban forest specialist, Philip van Wassenaer, stands on new tarmac where a mature lime once stood, similar to those in the background.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 5: A zero tolerance approach to displaced kerbs or surfacing is a valid reason to remove healthy street trees? Sorry, no its not, according to the government endorsed UK Roads Liaison Group Code of Practice!

Sheffield #TreeTruths 4: @hortweek explains how CAVAT is a credible way of valuing street trees. https://t.co/GCKIauKEV8. Sheffield City Council should read this before felling commemorative trees in Western Road. They are at the top end of the value spectrum.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 3: Trees make places nice to live in and people proud of their communities. This is Sheffield City Council’s approach to place making. There is no credible technical justification for this type of management.

Sheffield #TreeTruths 2: Street tree management in Sheffield is a local issue? I don’t think so! The industrial scale felling of healthy street trees being implemented by Sheffield City Council is unique and it has a big international profile.

Sheffield #TreeTruths1: Tree roots damage services? – I have seen no evidence in Sheffield. Trees rarely damage services, evidence is thousands of street trees in Sheffield not doing so, & millions around the world coexisting with services.

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Street fighters – Protests, petitions, planting and paints. It takes all sorts to stand up for street trees -Woodland Trust

Street fighters

Protests, petitions, planting and paints. It takes all sorts to stand up for street trees.

The UK’s towns and cities have a long tradition of street trees.

They’re part of our urban identity. We’re rightly proud of London’s planes, of Edinburgh’s leafy parks, of Bristol’s green reputation.

Millions of trees line our streets, squares and city roads, a green network that breathes life into grey and busy places. And with more of us living and working in towns and cities than ever before, they couldn’t be more important.

But our street trees are under attack.

The situation in Sheffield has dominated headlines. The city has become synonymous with tree felling, controversy and public outcry. Pictures of grandmothers woken from their beds, residents being arrested and trees lying felled with ‘save me’ love hearts still attached have caught national attention.

And many more healthy trees are still condemned to death. Their crimes? Nudging kerbstones out of place. Dropping those deadliest of urban hazards, leaves. Obscuring the view (of other buildings). Quite the rap sheet.

Whatever the justifications, the maintenance cost for their care can be a real concern, and cash-strapped councils may be tempted to turn to quick, cheap fixes.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Living history

Street trees have long been symbols of status, wealth and prospering communities.

The Victorians really set the standard. In the mid-1800s, the fashion for tree-lined boulevards in the cities of continental Europe led to calls for street tree planting here in the UK. Expanding towns would absorb field boundary trees and incorporate them into street designs. There were even the beginnings of recognition for the health benefits of street trees at a time when urban poverty and class divides were hot topics.

Today, we enjoy the fruits of our ancestors’ labours.

“The people in those Victorian streets are smiling and proud of their newly planted trees, now grown into beautiful mature trees.”

Mark Johnston, ex-tree officer and author of Street Trees in Britain: A History

Mark spent years researching the connection people have felt to urban trees over the centuries and their place in modern urban life. They tell a story of where we’ve come from, of community cohesion and of traditions, folklore and pride. He stresses that it’s impossible to capture the value of our oldest street trees in purely financial terms.

“They’re more than just current environmental assets. They’re part of our heritage and the history of our communities. They’re the most amazing living things in our streets. If we lose them, we lose part of our history.”

Good neighbours

Urban trees hold historical and cultural significance. They’re part of our urban heritage. They’re landmarks. Old friends.

But they also serve us in other ways.

They clean our air. They shade our pavements. They lift spirits, feed wildlife and beautify our surroundings. They even increase the value of our homes.

Without trees, our towns and cities would be very different places.

What do street trees do for us?

They create habitats
for wildlife

Trees provide homes and food for birds, insects and other wildlife

They promote
health and wellbeing

People exercise more and feel
better around trees

They prevent flooding

Trees intercept rain water and can even slow floods

Trees improve air quality

Trees reduce air pollution and keep our cities shaded and cool

Trees elevate house prices

Houses are worth more and sell
quicker on streets with trees

Despite their best qualities, street trees suffer from something of an image problem. Poor public perception, apathy and misinformation compound the problems trees face and spur local authorities to make ill-informed management decisions.

But how can we fight these misconceptions? How do we raise the profile of our trees and build an understanding of their crucial importance? How do we transform a perceived cost into an investment and persuade both councils and residents that street trees are worth it?

Our trees are not alone. They have a voice in the passionate people across the UK, from all walks of life, using a number of means to stand up for trees they love.

Meet our street fighters.

The Campaigner

Paul Selby,
Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG)

More than 5,000 street trees have been felled in Sheffield to date. In all, around half the city’s trees are marked for replacement, many of them healthy, well-loved and in the prime of their lives.

Local tree action groups have sprung up across the city in response to the felling, organising petitions, demonstrations and campaigns to raise awareness.

“There is a myth out there that the campaigning is all about saving every single tree when that’s not the case,” explains Paul, a campaigner with Sheffield Tree Action Groups. “Around 10% of the trees probably do need to be felled, whether that’s because of disease, severe damage or danger, but having spoken to experts – whether highways or arboriculture experts – 90% of the trees should be saved. That’s what we’re all about – to have transparency. To have proper consultation and engagement with residents. To make sure that a tree strategy is followed and an evidence-based approach is taken so that trees are only felled when necessary.”

The campaign has raised the profile of street trees and brought the issue into the public eye. So far, something like 300 trees have been saved. One in particular really brings the loss home for urban wildlife.

One of the few mature elms to have weathered the devastation of Dutch elm disease stands on Chelsea Road. Itself a rare survivor, it’s home to a colony of endangered butterflies that have narrowly avoided being wiped out.

“It’s not until you realise what’s going to be lost that you put a value on it,” Paul says. “As you’ve probably seen from the media footage, people are willing to put their freedom at risk – to potentially be locked up or be given huge fines – to save their healthy street trees. That’s how much Sheffield residents love their street trees, and we’re known across Europe and the world for it.”

Paul thinks people should feel empowered to fight for street trees, and that together they’re a force to be reckoned with.

“There are people in this campaign who don’t have a lot of expertise or knowledge of nature and wildlife – some of them don’t even know what species the trees are – but they do know the benefits they bring. People are willing to fight to save their street trees.”

And his message for councils? “Don’t underestimate the importance of street trees to people and don’t underestimate their value. They’ve got more benefits than the cost of felling. Take that into account, be transparent and open in your decision-making, consult residents properly, and what you’ll find is you can get rid of the unhealthy trees without controversy. You can work together to actually save trees.“

The Planter

Sandy Kerr,
Helensburgh Tree Conservation Trust

When Sandy moved to Helensburgh in 1975, he knew it was the town for him. “There’s a mile of flowering cherry trees in spring,” he says. “What a fantastic place to live.”

The town is a bit of a well-kept secret. It has a long history of tree appreciation. As early as 1875, local people demanded the planting of trees, and it’s thought some of the oldest cherries still flowering today may be examples of those original pioneers.

Many other trees have been planted in the decades since, and in spring the streets produce a stunning display of blossom celebrated with their very own festival. Its beauty has earned the town the nickname ‘the Garden City of the Clyde’, and it’s even one of the National Tree Collections of Scotland – the only street tree representative on the list.

Helensburgh’s grid layout and wide verges are perfect for accommodating street trees, but they’re not without their costs. Government reform and budget cuts meant that no new planting or tree replacement was on the cards. With some of the established trees coming to the end of their life, residents decided to take matters into their own hands.

The Helensburgh Tree Conservation Trust was formed.

Residents pay a small annual membership fee to belong to the charity. These proceeds are used to purchase saplings from a Scottish nursery and fund planting across the town, replacing trees lost to disease and storm damage and in-filling gaps in the display. A team of local volunteers then look after the trees, repairing supports and keeping the trees in good nick. Some 1,000 trees have been planted to date.

“We want to look after the treescape of Helensburgh,” Sandy says. “We’re trying to maintain the character of the town by doing what would previously have been done by the council. We don’t have the powers of a local authority so our job can be difficult at times, but the vision is that we can help ensure Helensburgh continues to be a great place to come and enjoy the trees.”

Sandy’s forestry and ecology background stood him in good stead as a trustee for the charity, which has become something of an authority in the town. “People come to us to ask about taking down problem trees,” Sandy tells us. “We use it as an opportunity to advise. We ask them to consider replacement planting in their gardens, for example. And we involve the community. One of our successes has been planting in one of the local council housing schemes where everybody told us they would be vandalised. We involved the youngsters there and they weren’t vandalised – they’re very proud of their street trees and so are we!”

The Artist

Sarah Deakin,
Street Tree Art Sheffield (STARTS)

Art can offer people a way to express themselves, and the brush is sometimes mightier than the sword.

For some residents of Sheffield, what started as a simple way to appreciate street trees among friends has quickly grown into something much more.

“Myself and another colleague set up STARTS just under a year ago,” Sarah tells us. “Two of us decided to do some painting sessions after a very fraught summer. It’s a very gentle, passive way of getting the message across to people who might not be aware of what’s going on or who don’t want to see an active protest – they might feel a bit threatened talking to people in that sort of situation. So it’s a much more gentle way of just sharing our love of the trees.”

The movement caught on. It’s become a way of supporting residents who have been affected by the felling of trees, and it’s resonated with many.

“We had a call from an area in Sheffield where there had been some quite difficult situations between residents,” Sarah remembers. “Some wanted the trees down, some wanted to keep them, and there was aggression and animosity. A lot of residents didn’t feel their voices were being heard although they wanted to keep their trees, so they asked if we’d go there to show support.

We did the following week, and 30 people turned up to paint and draw. We realised then that this was going somewhere. It was something that people needed.”

And with a little help, the movement has grown.

“The Woodland Trust got wind of what was going on. We set up as one of their Tree Charter groups and they gave us some funding to put on an exhibition.”

Hundreds of children, beginners and established artists attended a mass paint-off of all the trees on Western Road, some of which are threatened by felling. Planted as a memorial to former school pupils lost to the First World War, they’re a poignant reminder of the connection between trees, communities and our history. The exhibition that followed attracted national media attention and sent a message that couldn’t be ignored.

Crucially, celebrating street trees through art has offered people a way to contribute to the cause without confrontation.

“I think there are a lot of people whose mental health is being affected by what’s happening. People are really grieving the loss of their trees, but they don’t necessarily want to go out and actively protest. Our art sessions not only raise awareness of the wider campaign to save street trees, they provide people with a refuge and a place to be at peace and be calm. ”

The Resident

Alice Whitehead,
Northampton

For Alice, trees are in the blood.

“Trees have always been really important to me. My dad is a landscape historian and he’s spent much of his life trying to protect trees on landscapes with Tree Protection Orders, so it’s sort of ingrained in me.”

Alice is a freelance writer. She lives on a street in Far Cotton that was once lined end to end with trees. Today, square patches of mud mark some rather conspicuous absences between the few remaining survivors.

“When we moved here 12 years ago, there were roughly 20 trees in the street. Then every couple of months, I would see a team come out and chop one down. Mostly it was trees that had either got diseased or died, but they’d occasionally chop down healthy trees where they were leaning into houses and they’d received complaints about shading.”

Alice’s frustration is evident. The removed trees are not replaced, and those that are struggling but might otherwise be saved seem consigned to felling without consultation with residents. “I felt like something could be done about the disease or the decline of some of the trees to try and save them,” Alice says. “I asked a tree officer about it. He said they’re dangerous and it’s all about health and safety. If a branch falls off, that’s that, so we have to take it down now. They cut them to stumps – you’ll see one up the road – which just looks awful. Eventually they come along and dig them out with a grinder.”

Determined to make a difference, Alice resolved to rally the support of her local residents and show decision makers just how valued her street trees are. Armed with one of the Woodland Trust’s Street Trees Celebration Kits, she held a street party and used her blog and social media presence to collect signatures for a petition to present to councillors.

She’s also an ear to the ground for the Woodland Trust. Northampton Council is soon to be dissolved, and money is tight. By alerting the Street Trees campaigning team to these budget concerns, the Trust has been able to approach council officers with advice and offers of assistance. There’s a chance a cost-effective solution might be found.

Alice knows just how important it is to get this message across.

“You create this incredible bond with trees. They become part of the fabric of your life. When the blossom comes out it really lifts you in the spring. You come out of winter blinking like a mole out of the darkness and there you are looking up at the trees with the beautiful blossom.

There’s so much evidence to show that they help mental health and even the cohesion of society. People come together more in leafy surroundings and areas where there are more trees. It’s incredible the effect they can have on people’s wellbeing.

That’s what councils miss when it comes down to costings – it’s not a cost, it’s an investment, and that’s what councils need to see. These trees are an investment in your community and in your environment.”

The Professional

Jeremy Barrell,
Barrell Tree Care

When Jeremy advises on street tree management, he speaks from experience.

With a background in practical tree work, he now acts as a consultant, sharing examples of exemplary tree husbandry from cities across the world and challenging poor decision-making.

“Here we have an example of where a council has bent over backward to accommodate trees,” he says, indicating to the bases of several mature oaks lining a street in Surbiton that’s named for their presence. The trees encroach a little way into the road, but rather than remove them, highways authorities have simply diverted yellow lines around them.

“You can see they’ve recently been pruned back,” Jeremy continues, pointing into the canopy as a small flock of parakeets screech past. “Trees of this age need regular maintenance like that to keep them manageable. I’d estimate they’re around 140 years old, and they’ve got many more in them yet.”

But not all of the examples Jeremy brings to mind have been so positive. He’s still frustrated by the removal of an avenue of historic horse chestnuts on Tooting Bec Common in Wandsworth. “Their removal illustrates exactly what I’m talking about – local politicians being out of touch with the wishes of the local community and hijacking technical arguments to get rid of trees.”

Jeremy suspects that in some cases, expensive management solutions are over-engineered because they benefit contractors. He also wants to combat the lack of expertise and understanding that can lead to inappropriate measures being taken.

“Planting trees remote from people is not sustainable mitigation for felling street trees close to people,” he says – just one example of the ill-informed solutions offered up. “People don’t always want trees right next to their houses but they do want access to trees because of the benefits they provide. Local councils are not listening to those requirements.”

But Jeremy is hopeful about the future. He thinks the tide is turning, and that by increasing pressure and working with decision-makers through groups like the Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG), attitudes to street trees are changing for the better.

“One of the things we’re working on is trying to get central government to understand that there is a problem. They’re starting to listen and I think over the next few years we’ll start to see changes in strategy and policy that will make local authorities take account of these environmental assets.”

A council perspective

No one wants to see scenes of needless destruction, distressed residents and confrontation. It’s bad for publicity, bad for trees and, ultimately, bad for people.

As well as supporting the important work people like our street tree fighters are doing, the Woodland Trust works closely with local authorities to put good street tree management into practice. A number of them are already doing great things.

Elton Watson is a tree manager for Wrexham County Borough Council, one of the first to sign up for the Woodland Trust’s Street Tree project. He recognises the value of street trees and is always looking for better ways to keep them a part of the community.

“Anything we can do to improve is a good thing – trees play such an important role,” he tells us. “Access to good quality green spaces encourages exercise and improves mental wellbeing. Given the choice, people would rather live near green spaces. Of course trees can damage highways and footways, but that has to be balanced against the benefits. We want residents to enjoy trees and see them as a positive, not a nuisance.”

After surveying the borough’s street tree stock, the council set out a Tree Strategy that has received much support. Tree cover will be increased, and the replanting of lost trees will be planned for the long term, counteracting the effects of climate change with hardy species suited to life in an urban environment, and mitigating the risk of disease by varying the species selected.

“We aim to maintain mature tree cover in perpetuity for as long as we can,” Elton explains. “Where it makes sense we’ll plant native species, but it’s also about the right tree in the right place.”

Now it’s your turn.

The future of our street trees can be a bright one. But we have to demand it.

The government has pledged to plant 1 million more trees in towns and cities and that councils will be given new duties to consult with residents before any felling takes place. A recent report on urban canopy cover shows us lagging behind our European counterparts at the moment, but with a little effort we can improve on our record.

If you’ve been inspired by any of the stories you’ve read and want to champion street trees where you live, sign up for a Street Trees Celebration Starter Kit. Hold an event in your street. Petition your local councillors. Celebrate your trees and show others just how much they mean to you.

Together, we can all fight for street trees. The Woodland Trust is behind you.

Sign up for a Street Trees Celebration Starter Kit

Author: Amy Lewis
Photography and film: Phil Formby
Graphics and build: Simon Hitchcock

Historical images: courtesy of Mark Johnston from Street Trees in Britain: A History,available from Oxbow Books or on Amazon
Additional images: iStock

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News