All of Sheffield’s street trees are special to someone however some of the city’s trees are widely recognised for their ecological and/or cultural significance. Sadly this offers no guarantee of protection – some irreplaceable trees have already been felled, others are still facing imminent destruction. Street trees in the UK are incredibly vulnerable to being lost through highway works and development. Even tree preservation orders (TPOs) offer limited protection, as they are trumped by the requirements of highway works.
Abbeydale Park Rise
This street of 100 houses is known for its fine cherry trees that are appreciated, by both people and pollinating insects alike, for their stunning blossoms every spring. Nineteen trees are listed for removal: a few are down as diseased but the majority are considered damaging. The disruption to footpaths and kerbs is due to the cherries being grafted onto a vigorous rootstock, however these problems can be addressed using standard Engineering Solutions.
Abbeydale Park Rise residents overwhelmingly support retaining the healthy trees and were founder members of Save Dore, Totley and Bradway Trees. The feeling on this road runs so high because it was residents who originally paid for the trees. Two women, now elderly, who still live next door to each other on the street, collected the funds and liaised with the Council. Each of them has a tree outside their home that is listed for removal, although one of these is diseased.
Every winter residents decorate the cherries with Christmas lights. Now nearly 70 households decorate their garden trees, and the street trees next to them, attracting hundreds of visitors to view the spectacle. Surprisingly these illuminations have become a source of controversy: residents refused to the take down lights when asked to do so ahead of planned felling, maintaining that the trees belong to the community and they have every right to keep the lights. This was followed by a letters from Amey insisting that the lights be removed from our ‘highway assets’ or they will taken down with no guarantee that they will still be in working order. Residents described these letters as ‘antagonistic’, ‘officious’, ‘disrespectful’ – the Christmas lights are still there.
Felling crews arrived on 29th June 2017 and within minutes residents were defending their trees, only to be joined shortly afterwards by other locals and supporters from across the city. SCC may dismiss this reaction as ’emotion’, whereas we call it community cohesion and a great example of local people standing up for what is important to them.
In a highly questionable move, SCC had an arborist (not even an officer of the court) hand out Pre-injunction Notices to any residents and onlookers who would accept them. This action shows that the Council are unwilling to engage with residents, instead they are grasping at straws and willing to do whatever is deemed necessary to shut down peaceful protest, regardless of the implications for local democracy.
Chelsea Road Elm
This elm has had more written about it than any other tree in Sheffield primarily because it is one of only a thousand mature elms left in the country, outside of the strongholds in Brighton and Edinburgh.
In common with other cities, Sheffield has numerous elms under the age of forty, however these are all vulnerable to being wiped out by the next outbreak Dutch Elm Disease. Chelsea Road’s Huntingdon elm has survived various waves of the devastating disease and is now 120 years old, suggesting that it benefits from natural resistance to the infection. Leading elm experts are backing the campaign to save this tree and say that it should be studied, as it may the hold the key to growing resistant elms in the future.
Taken alone this fact supports efforts to retain the tree, although there is another equally important reason to save it: the elm is home to the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. This rare, and elusive, butterfly depends upon mature elms for its survival. Council proposals to create a nearby alternative home for the colony seems to be based on untested guesswork and STAG are not optimistic that the butterflies will adopt a new home.
So why are SCC so keen to see it felled? They are following the advice of Amey’s engineers who have costed the works needed to save the tree at £50,000, a sum that SCC say they are unwilling to pay. STAG asked an independent expert to judge the costs involved and they indicated that it would could be completed for between £1,500 – £3,500. So how did Amey arrive at their figure? In an email exchange between a STAG supporter and Paul Billington, Director of Culture and Environment at SCC, the costs are given as follows:
• £37,000 for works
• an estimated £7,500 for contingencies (eg moving utility covers)
• £5,000 for consultation, safety audits, etc.
• £3,000 for design
If an independent specialist contractor can complete the job for under £3,500 then it shows the shockingly poor value for money Sheffield’s people are getting from a PFI contract administered by Amey.
SCC are now insisting that the elm is decayed beyond the point at which it is practical to save it, however this position is disputed by every independent arborist who has inspected the tree. SCC have commissioned two reports on the Chelsea Elm, and both of them have said that the Elm simply needs pruning. Removing decayed wood from mature trees is standard practice and it is an effective strategy for both making a tree safe and prolonging its life. Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust commissioned two extensive reports and neither of these has revealed serious problems. Read their statement on Twitter.
All the independent expert advice received so far undermines the credibility of SCC’s decision to fell. A concerned citizen has now informed the Council of their intention to take the matter to Judicial Review should no suitable compromise be found. The hope is that it will not come to this, as it is an expensive and stressful process for all involved.
This veteran oak (Streets Ahead ref: 1105291) grew in Stocksbridge at the head of the alley between Oaks Avenue and Woolley Road (OS Grid Ref: SK 262 984). Professor Ian Rotherham estimated this tree to be 450 years old, making it possibly the oldest highway tree in Sheffield when it was felled on 1st April 2014.
When Amey inspected the tree they noticed Chicken-of-the-Woods fungus (Laetiporus sulphureus) on the lower trunk and decided that this was reason enough for felling. Amey then posted a felling notice on the tree indicating that the tree had been “…professionally inspected” and “…needs to be removed…” because “The tree has decay or disease”.
On 27th January 2014 the tree was assessed by Tim Wetherhill (Tech Arbor A) – an arboricultural “consultant” commissioned by Amey. Sonic tomography (PiCUS®) was used to scan three cross sections of the trunk: “…to establish the extent of decay present in the lower stem”. To quote from the summary of Mr Wetherhill’s report:
“The results of the Tomography indicate that the extent of decay did not breach t/R ratio of 30/70%, the point at which fully-crowned trees become dangerous (in hollow tree stems, the t/R ratio is the ratio of the thickness (t) of sound wood to the radius (R) of the stem. A criterion helpful in evaluating tree risk).”
An official response was received from Streets Ahead (ref: 101001211318) on 13th February 2014. This was issued after Streets Ahead had already received Mr Wetherhill’s report and ignored its findings.
“Dear Sir or Madam
Thank you for your email dated 25 January 2014. We are sorry for the delay in responding.
Thank you for your observations.
The tree to which you refer was found to be infected with Laetiporus sulphurous [sic] (LS). Given the tree’s location, within the carriageway, and, therefore, contrary to section 96 of the Highways Act 1980 and also the nature of decay associated with LS, a decision to fell the tree was made.
However, due to public reaction, and the prominent nature of the tree and its associated amenity value, further investigation has been arranged i.e. Picus tomography. The results of which will enable our Arboriculture Asset Management team to evaluate more accurately the extent of decay and, possibly, offer an alternative management option.”
This promise to look into an ‘alternative management option’ is clearly a case of too little, too late. The ‘Report Summary’ was finally made available on 26th April 2014 – three months after assessment, and after felling – by the Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene, and only after repeated requests.
This handsome oak grows near the entrance to Vernon Road in Dore and is thought to be a least 150 years old, harking back to a time when this area was still just fields and farmhouses. National guidance recommends preserving street trees of this age and Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) are applied when certain criteria are met. Save Dore, Totley and Bradway Trees have already had one application to grant Vernon a TPO rejected. In spite of this the group have submitted a second application and are currently awaiting the result.
Vernon’s charms have not gone completely unrecognised by officialdom; the Independent Tree Panel (ITP) described this oak as ‘a very fine specimen’ and they suggested ways that he could be retained using standard Engineering Solutions. For reasons that are hard to understand, SCC have once again declined to follow the ITP’s advice. The Council issued their now standard response, saying that works required to save the tree are unaffordable. If the ITP think the oak can be saved using standard solutions already paid for under the terms of the contract then why do SCC believe that it will cost extra?
As befits such a charismatic tree Vernon has his own Twitter handle @SAVEDORETREES and over 1100 followers. He has inspired art and poems, becoming a favourite subject for local school children, and has graced national television on multiple occasions.
Read the exclusive interview with Vernon.
Western Road War Memorial Trees
This memorial avenue was planted in April 1919 in honour of the pupils of Westways School who laid down their lives during the First World War. SCC’s announcement of their intention to fell 23 of the trees caused public outcry. In response SCC held a cross-party ‘Community Evidence Drop-in Session’ in Crookes, where Councillors met concerned locals.
Councillor Lisa Banes, the Working Group Chair, stated on 6th April 2017:
“…As a Working Group we are gathering information and we want to hear from the community. I and other members of the group would like to hear your thoughts about the War Memorial of Western Road and Gillott Street [now Mona Avenue] and what you would like to see happen with the War Memorial now and in the future.”
A resident of Western Road, who is ‘Head of Architecture and Urbanism’ at a Sheffield firm, took Cllr. Banes at her word and went along to the drop-in session. The resident took both plans and artist’s impressions illustrating possible Engineering Solutions for each of the threatened trees.
Cllr. Banes refused to acknowledge the plans, although other councillors present did look through them. Cllr. Banes also refused to grant the resident permission to exhibit the plans, denying visitors to the drop-in sessions the chance to examine a potential solution.
If SCC were really interested in hearing resident’s views at the Community Evidence Drop-in Session then they why were they so unwilling to listen?
Independent arboricultural advice has confirmed that these trees have many years of life left in them if properly maintained. Yet even in this sensitive and high-profile situation, SCC seem strangely reluctant to use Engineering Solutions.