“There have been dark moments, yes,” says Paul Selby with feeling. “Waking up to find 20 police on the street. Your neighbours being beaten up by private security officers, or taken to court on false pretences…”
It sounds like some dystopian nightmare, but Paul is describing events in suburban Sheffield. For three years the government analyst has been a prime mover in Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG), the coalition fighting to defend trees from the chainsaws of Sheffield City Council. The council has so far felled 5,500 roadside trees, under a £2.2 billion scheme that has infuriated locals and the Woodland Trust.
Now Paul and his comrades have picked up an honour at the Trust’s first ever Street Tree Awards. Held at London’s Alexandra Palace, last month’s event celebrated the scores of neighbourhood groups rallying behind our £500,000 drive to win greater protection for urban trees UK-wide, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Others taking home laurels included Deb Checkland of Save Swansea’s Trees, which has successfully lobbied for a greater community say in tree policy there. And Bristol City Council, whose trailblazing Talking Trees project has united with the Woodland Trust and others in a pledge to double the tree canopy across the city.
The awards were enlivened by art from a show compiled by the Sheffield campaigners, including Lynne Chapman’s painting of an elm saved from the chop (above). As Broadleaf went to press the council had paused its felling work and was talking to STAG to find common ground. Says Paul: “I think their intent is genuine. All we ask is they only fell trees that pose a demonstrable safety risk.”