As the noose tightens on Sheffield’s Vernon OAK – It’s sad, so sad. It’s a sad, sad situation. And it’s getting more and more absurd.

As the noose tightens on Sheffield’s Vernon OAK …..It’s sad, so sad. It’s a sad, sad situation. And it’s getting more and more absurd.

Or so wrote Elton John & Bernie Taupin back in 1976, but the line could equally apply here in Sheffield today. The noose is tightening around several key and ultimately iconic trees and roadside avenues in Sheffield, from the Vernon Oak, to the Chelsea Huntingdon Elm, and to the Meersbrook Park Road limes.

   This really is environmental bullying and brutality at its worst and shrouded by an aura of what seems to be deliberate and divisive misinformation that is trotted out as ‘professional practice’ or ‘science’ – which is certainly is not.

The Vernon Oak is a pre-urbanisation, pre-enclosure rural tree and I estimate at least 180 to 200 years old – it cannot be replaced. Furthermore, it is doing almost no damage, and the removal is paid for by US! As the line goes, ‘And it’s getting more and more absurd’.

But following on with appalling use of lyrics, as Bonnie Tyler sang, ‘Where have all the good men gone?’, for the Vernon Oak the line might be, ‘I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night’………..So I wonder when will the cavalry arrive?

More to follow!


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7 Responses to As the noose tightens on Sheffield’s Vernon OAK – It’s sad, so sad. It’s a sad, sad situation. And it’s getting more and more absurd.

  1. chrisrust says:

    Some cavalry definitely turned up this week as your photo of the ‘Tree Viking’ shows. But we need somebody to get Sheffield City Council off the dreadful hook they have bitten with their highway maintenance (25 year monopoly) contract. Thanks as always Ian for a very pointful contribution.

  2. Lindi Green says:

    Dear Ian Rotherham,
    I well remember, when you were just a stripling, attending some classes that you gave. I was a member of the Sorby Natural history group then.
    I was particularly pleased at a class ‘Drawing wildlife’ that you praised my sketch of a fox.
    Very nice that you are now a well respected academic and still a voice for the environment.

  3. Technotronic says:


    The letter below was sent to The Star and the Yorkshire Post newspapers on 10th August 2017. The same day, an earlier version was published by the Sheffield Telegraph newspaper (on sale for seven days), on page 8, under the title: “Safe long-term retention of existing trees”. Notation and references have been added to support the content.


    Dear Editor,

    With regard to city-wide destruction of Sheffield’s street trees, Sheffield City Council (SCC) frequently justify felling mature street trees on the basis that damage to footways and kerbs hinders or prevents accessibility and mobility, and represents a danger to people or vehicles [2]. Fortunately, there are a range of alternative resurfacing products, methods and techniques that can be used for reconstruction or repair – reasonable maintenance options. Their use would enable the safe long-term retention of existing trees, as well as achieve a smooth surface of adequate regularity [1]. It is not necessary for SCC or Amey to fell all trees associated with damage to the built environment in order to fulfil their statutory duties [2]. The £2.2bn highway maintenance PFI contract commits the service provider – Amey – to MAXIMISE CANOPY COVER and apply an HOLISTIC, INNOVATIVE, SUSTAINABLE approach to stewardship of the highway tree population [3]. Neglect to take adequate steps to ensure fulfilment of these commitments stems from the fact that, contrary to all current good practice guidance and recommendations, SCC has yet to honour its 7yo policy commitment to have a tree strategy [4], to guide and inform policy and decisions, and help ensure a planned, systematic, consistent, integrated, balanced approach.

    On 2nd September, 2015, Steve Robinson (SCC Head of Highway Maintenance) publicly presented a list of 25 ideas – “engineering solutions” – that could be used to retain mature street trees when resurfacing. The list included: excavation; “flexible paving/surfacing solution”; ramping/re-profiling; use of thinner kerbs; REMOVAL OF DISPLACED KERBS; pruning (including pollarding); “creation of larger tree pits” [3]. He informed:

    “THE ENGINEERING AND TREE-BASED SOLUTIONS COME AT NO EXTRA COST TO THE COUNCIL. So, the tax-payer does not pay if an engineering solution or a tree-based solution can be applied, and the reason for that is that the Streets Ahead project is a highway maintenance project and engineering and tree-based solutions are highway maintenance solutions. [5]”

    SCC regularly assert that felling is a “last resort” [6]. But, since 2015, the Information Commissioner [7] and John Mothersole (SCC Chief Executive) [8] have confirmed that no alternative highway engineering specifications have been commissioned or drafted for consideration for use as an alternative to felling.

    D.Long (BSc Hons Arb), Sheffield.”




    See London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) guidance: ‘Surface Materials Around Trees In Hard Landscapes’ – May 2017:

    Trees and Design Action Group, 2014. Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 25 January 2015].

    See the letter from the Department of Transport, dated 7th July 2015, on page 163 of the Nether Edge petition hand-out that was distributed to every Councillor in Sheffield, prior to the meeting that took place on 3rd February 2016 (the SORT letter dated 29th January 2016. Also, see pages 52 & 53):

    “Local highway authorities, in your case Sheffield City Council, have a duty under Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highways network in their area. The Act does not set out specific standards of maintenance, as it is for each individual local highway authority to assess which parts of its network are in need of repair and what standards should be applied, based upon their local knowledge and circumstances.”

    Click to access SORT%20LETTER%20TO%20THE%20CABINET%20MEMBER%20FOR%20ENVIRONMENT%20AND%20TRANSPORT_29th%20January%2C%202016_v51.6_Corrected_1_1.pdf

    (this letter triggered Amey & SCC to publish the back-dated 5yr contract document, the day before the meeting [3])

    Also see UK Roads Liaison Group Guidance: ;

    & D.Long’s previous letter to The Star newspaper:

    In addition, SCC & Amey have existing policy commitments to comply with “national best practice”. See:




    See the Amey Streets Ahead tree management contract document that was made public on 2nd February 2016 (the day before the Nether Edge Sheffield Tree Action Group presented their 6,295 plus signature petition at a meeting of Sheffield City Council). It was released in response to a letter from the Save Our Roadside trees Sheffield Tree Action Group, addressed to Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport (Cllr Terry Fox), dated 29th January 2016 [2]:

    Click to access SCC_Sheffield%20Streets%20Ahead%205%20Year%20Tree%20Management%20Strategy.pdf

    There is an existing policy commitment within “Sheffield’s Great Outdoors: Green and Open Space Strategy 2010-2030″ policy document, to initiate, develop, adopt and implement a tree strategy – a “Trees & Woodland Strategy” – as Council policy:–about/parks-woodlands–countryside/green-and-open-space-strategy.html

    Also see D.Long’s previous letters to The Star:

    “DECEIT & LIES” (published on 12th September, 2016, as ‘Worthy of Trust?’):

    “Deceit” (not printed, dated Tuesday 27th September, 2016):

    & see:

    (A letter from Save Our Roadside Trees [SORT], dated 11th July, 2016, addressed to Simon Green (a) and David Caulfield (b), sent on 11th July, 2016.

    a) Then SCC Executive Director for the “Place” portfolio, which included responsibility for the £2.2bn, city-wide, Streets Ahead highway maintenance project [Mr Green has since resigned. Laraine Manley (c) has been appointed as his replacement].

    b) Then SCC Director of Development Services, with overall responsibility for highway trees [Mr Caulfield has since resigned. Paul Billington has been appointed as his replacement])

    c) Sadly, Ms Manley’s recent policy document – “Growing Sustainably: A Bold Plan For A Sustainable Sheffield” neglects to make any mention whatsoever of Sheffield’s urban forest, trees, vegetation, or green infrastructure. Here’s a link to the report (remember that SUSTAINABILITY is supposed to be at the heart of existing policy commitments [3] [d]):

    Click to access Growing%20Sustainably%20Green%20Commission%20Report%201.pdf

    d) See the Final Report of Sheffield’s Green Commission:

    Also see D.Long’s letter to The Star:

    “STREET TREE MASSACRE” (a response to Cllr Peter Price, published on Saturday 21st January 2017: the day of the STAG conference):

    Listen to the attached audio clip, from the second meeting of the “bi-monthly” Streets Ahead Highway Tree Advisory Forum, held on 2nd September 2015, attached above (HTAF 2_2nd_September_2015_Steve_Robinson – SCC Head of Highway Maintenance_NO EXTRA COST SOLUTIONS_150902_001_2_3_2). Please note that to date (7th August 2017) there has not been a third meeting, despite the SCC website continuing to assert:

    “Anyone who cares about the trees on Sheffield’s streets can come along to the Highway Tree Advisory Forum meeting.

    The forum has been set up to give people an opportunity to hear from a variety of experts from various fields from across the city to debate how highway trees should be managed.”

    (web-page last updated on 31st July 2017)

    See the aforementioned SORT letter [2]. Also, listen to the audio clip of the first “bi-monthly” Streets Ahead Highway Tree Advisory Forum meeting, held on 23rd July 2015, attached above (HTAF 1_23rd_July_2015_Steve_Robinson – SCC Head of Highway Maintenance_Last Resort_150723_002_5[1]).

    See the Information Commissioner’s e-mail, dated 19th February 2016, on pages 14 to 17 of the following PDF:

    Click to access 6Ds_SCC%20%26%20AMEY%20HIGHWAYS%20INFRASTRUCTURE%20ASSESSMENT%20CRITERIA%20-%20LICENCE%20TO%20KILL_1.pdf

    See the letter dated 20th OCTOBER 2016, sent from Sheffield City Council’s Chief Executive – Mr JOHN MOTHERSOLE – to NICK CLEGG. Sheffield City Council confirm that, OVER 4 YEARS IN TO A £2.2 BILLION CITY-WIDE PROJECT, NO ALTERNATIVE HIGHWAY ENGINEERING SPECIFICATIONS HAVE EVER BEEN COMMISSIONED OR DRAFTED for consideration for use as an alternative to felling, as a means to retain mature street trees associated with damage to the built environment (footways, kerbs, and, to a lesser extent, boundary walls & drains):

    Click to access LETTER%20From%20SCCs%20Chief%20Executive%20to%20Nick%20Clegg%20MP%20-%20OVER%204yrs%20IN%20TO%20A%20%C2%A32.2%20bn%20PROJECT%20%26%20NO%20ALTERNATIVE%20HIGHWAY%20ENGINEERING%20SPECIFICATIONS%20DRAFTED.pdf

  4. Marion Watson says:

    Shared by email with Paul Blomfield MP

  5. Any of the Arbs that will be involved in the felling of the Vernon Oak and the company they work for I would request their Arbs’s licence be cancelled.
    David Garlovsky

  6. Technotronic says:


    Arboricultural practice and consultancy are not licenced in the UK. Anyone can call themselves an arboriculturist or arboricultural consultant. That’s why Amey & SCC are so crap. Also, you will note that SCC are very keen on calling everyone an “expert”, without actually stating precisely what their expertise is – usually, if not always, nothing to do with arboriculture or urban forestry – there was no arboriculturist on the panel of experts at the Highway Trees Advisory Forum, or at any of the “debates” at meetings of full Council when tree petitions were considered. 😦

    If you aren’t happy with Streets Ahead and aren’t happy with the cowboy rubbish you receive from Willis, you are offered a sham “investigation by another “expert” – Darren Butt.

  7. Andy C says:

    Ian, you might have seen already the following conversation between Councillor Neal Gibson and Nigel Slack on Twitter concerning Vernon Oak and the Streets Ahead contract… but if not, it’s worth viewing –

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