Treehuggers Stop City of Sheffield From Cutting Down Half the Trees in the City

©. Anne Goodenough/ Open Democracy UK

But not after 5,500 have already been lost.

Trees are such a pain in cities. Cars hit them. Their roots break up sidewalks. Noisy birds sit in them and crap all over the cars parked below. No wonder the City of Sheffield signed a deal to cut down 17,500 trees, fully half of the trees in town, to maintain the roads and pavements.

But it's hard. The poor fellers who have to chop down the trees have to deal with hundreds of people protesting the cutting. They need fences and police and injunctions, just to do their job of making Sheffield safe from dangerous trees. As Sebastian Payne notes in the Financial Times, "a dispute over mass tree felling has inflamed bourgeois passions and awakened unprecedented levels of civic activism."

The protesters claim that many of the trees classed for removal as “dead, dying, diseased, damaging or dangerous” are safe and sturdy, but the authorities seem to believe it is simpler to cut down a tree than fix a wonky curb. The torrid scenes include retirees out on early-morning patrols to spot the high-vis vests of [tree removal contractor] Amey’s felling teams. The axemen are then blocked by tree-huggers, until police and private security teams undertake their forcible removal.

Everybody is piling on; according to the BBC, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has accused Sheffield City Council of "environmental vandalism" and promised to do "anything required" to end its controversial tree-felling programme.

before and after

Sheffield Tree Action Groups/via

The Sheffield Tree Action Group is showing before and after pictures, and anyone who has lived on a street with trees will be shocked; trees make a street, make the neighbourhood and these sure don't look “dead, dying, diseased, damaging or dangerous,” which apparently were the criteria for removal.

removed trees

Sheffield Tree Action Groups/via

Payne concludes in the FT:

Nothing provokes a feeling of lack of control like watching trees come crashing down outside your house while being helplessly restrained by an unflinching security guard. Tackling populism in all forms depends on renewing the British sense of community. In Sheffield, the fightback has begun by rescuing those “useless” trees.

"Useless" trees, really. The appropriately named TreeHugger has noted that Urban trees save at least one life per year in cities, that Trees provide $500 million in services per megacity every year and that Urban Trees A Significant And Growing Means Of Carbon Sequestration.

The city council recently paused the tree chopping, blaming the activists and “the actions of a handful of people unlawfully entering the safety zones where tree replacement work is being carried out.” They also face an election in May and are perhaps worried that this is not a good image for them. It might be a good time to vote for the Green Party instead; they like trees.