Not a good time to be a tree!
Recently I did a breakfast show interview on BBC Radio Sheffield about street trees, public meetings, and widespread concerns. I was stressing that ‘yes’ there is a need to manage the street tree resource, but it should be done carefully and considerately. Importantly, the present strategy of dealing with the public through notification for the lucky few, but no real consultation, was unacceptable.
I mentioned the great Oak at Deepcar / Stocksbride as an example. However, Councillor Jack Scott assured everyone that all the residents were now happy with their replacement sapling! Sadly, the interview was very brief and I had no chance to respond to Jack’s assertions. Apparently, the 300-year old tree was felled because whilst it had stood the test of recent hurricanes, it had rot. Well, here is the news, all 300-year old trees will have rot but it is not necessarily a problem. Sometimes it may be but not always. Furthermore, the tree can safely be reduced to a less vulnerable but sustainable size. Jack was adamant that the local people were now pleased with their ‘replacement’ sapling (actually just a commercially grown oak sapling planted like so many others and in a different site – so not really a replacement at all), and that their tree had gone to a local craft worker to make furniture. Indeed, there was now no problem at all and nothing to be concerned about.
Nevertheless, my Deepcar correspondent Mike Parker chipped in however, with an extract from the latest edition of Look Local regarding the “ancient” oak in Stocksbridge; and it is (sorry, was) a real monster. Mike wrote: ‘Please find attached a scanned image of an article that I sent you info about on a previous occasion; from which you will see that it has now been felled. Though it is interesting to note the “lumberjack” standing on a branch of a supposedly diseased tree seemingly to no detriment to himself.’
The godfather of ancient woods and trees, Cambridge Don, Professor Oliver Rackham, has stated that one great old oak is worth 10,000 planted saplings. Well, Jack and AMEY had better get planting then as they have a lot of ground to make up! My spies tell me that the recent AMEY and City Council meeting to speak to the public was what they described as ‘the usual lame excuses and a lot of ducking and diving by those in authority.’ Issues like consultation rather than notification, adherence to long-established local policies on trees, importantly, the effective assessment of trees of historic / heritage importance (like the Deepcar giant), and above all, asking what local people want and demand, were all raised at the packed Green Party meeting that I addressed in October 2014. These have all been ignored with zero progress to date. A key issue too, is the impervious mechanisms of communication when problems arise and the poor quality of responses to the public questions about issues and concerns. Heritage trees are being felled with little understanding of their unique status and worth, and with totally false statement and assurances about replacement. These are not the Victorian planted trees which AMEY and the Council talk about, and which themselves can be both a problem but also a wonderful asset to the city, but are historic monuments which are irreplaceable. In some cases they may have to go, but this should be in the light of an exploration for alternatives which maintains the tree in situ; above all, if one of these trees goes then it should be done with the stark and honest realisation that it cannot be replaced. Presently, the professionals and politicians dealing with this do not even recognise the heritage trees in the first place. A final gesture of ignominy that local tree historians have objected to, is that once felled, the tree stumps are ‘ground out’ to leave not evidence that they ever graced our urban lives. One suggestion from Jack at the public meeting meeting was that a plaque could be put it the location where the magnificent tree once stood. I imagine something like: ‘Here was a magnificent irreplaceable giant – a unique part of our history and natural heritage – but it was old and a bit decayed, so we cut it down, ground it out, and made it into a chair – enjoy. By the way, there is one up the road and round the corner, which if you come back in 300 years or so, may be something like‘. This situation is ongoing and causing huge concern. Combined with on-going threats and problems for local woods with the M1 Services, the Handsworth Fire Station in Bowden Housteads Wood, HS2, and even conservation projects gone wrong such as at Greno Woods, means that overall, it is the worstfor trees and woods that we have experienced in over 30 years.
Ian Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change