Further inspiration for all you WoodWatchers – this time from street trees in Bristol.
The outcome of this campaign wasn’t quite what WoodWatchers would usually aim for. There was no reprieve for these trees under threat, as they were ultimately removed. Yet the fight put up on their behalf and the resulting positive changes now being seen, gives us an excellent example of how public pressure really can influence decision-makers, and shape policy for the long term.
Street trees – trees in parks and gardens as well as those literally lining our streets – are the trees most people experience in their daily lives. In the Government’s 2007 strategy for England’s trees, woods and forests 60% of people say they want more trees where they live, and they are an important part of a healthy environment and tree cover in the UK.
Not so in Bristol – or at least that’s how it seemed last year, when Trust member Denis Stuckey discovered Local Authority plans to fell a spectacular row of hybrid black poplars without the proper consultation. These 30 poplars were a valued landmark in Bristol, giants planted up to 90 years ago and towering 21-metres (70 feet) high. Lining a main road to the south of the city, the poplars stood near a junction so busy it’s designated an Air Quality Management Area.
Condemmed as being dangerous, immediately steps were taken to have the poplars chopped down within days. Statutory requirements for public consultation were ignored, and Councillors were amazed to hear about the felling as they had not had the usual involvement in the proposals. Outraged by the plans and infuriated at the lack of open public discussion, Denis decided to take a stand.
The ensuing campaign attracted a high media profile and the Council was forced to undertake a full (previously lacking) independant inspection of the trees. This report sealed the trees’ fate by concurring they were indeed dangerous; but this also revealed the reason that the trees were now too dangerous to remain was because of previous over-heavy pruning, and root damage caused by vehicles being used to redevelop land next door.
Further lobbying by the campaigners saw the Council agree to replace the felled trees. After the initial offer of a relatively small, non-native, species of ornamental tree drew further protests, the Council ran an unprecedented consultation and local residents were then invited to select replacements. The campaigners were able to influence the ballot in nature’s favour and 3 mixed rows of replacement trees were planted – 10 oaks, 11 field maple and 9 birch; a combination considered to be the best for both wildlife and visual effect. Although not able to save the original 30 poplars, the campaigners were reasonably satisfied with the initial end result. “The replacement trees planted in January 2008 are about 12-15 feet high, so bear no comparison with their predecessors,” says Denis. ‘But I do feel we won a major victory”.
Bristol has seen further victories for trees since the campaign ended. In addition, one more unexpected bonus as a result of the campaign gives further proof (as if you needed it) that fighting threats to woods and trees is worth it… it appears the word has spread to Bristol businesses too!
Denis and his campaigners may have lost the battle, but it seems they won the war. However, potential WoodWatchers take note: street trees continue to be felled all over our towns and cities. William Blake said: ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way.’
Don’t be a witness to further urban tree loss, take action – you never know what could happen.