Sheffield campaigners welcome new measures to protect nation’s urban trees

Sheffield Tree Action Groups co-chairman Chris Rust.
Sheffield Tree Action Groups co-chairman Chris Rust.
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A bitter dispute over tree-felling in Sheffield has had an “immense” impact on raising community concerns, campaigners say, as new proposals are put forward to protect urban areas.

A raft of forestry measures was unveiled by Environment Secretary Michael Gove yesterday, aimed at ensuring local people have a bigger say over what happens to their trees.

It comes too late for communities in Sheffield, where bitter disputes at the loss of thousands of trees saw van loads of police deployed onto leafy streets as community protests grew.

But now, as proposals for stricter consultations are to be considered nationwide, campaigners say meaningful consideration must be crucial to giving communities a voice.

“We are really pleased,” said Chris Rust, co-chair of the Sheffield Trees Action Group. “The fact is, we have lost so many healthy trees, and it’s been a bitter and horrible fight, at great cost.

“All of that is terrible. But the whole spirit has been to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In Sheffield, around 5,500 trees have been felled, including 2,000 which the council confirmed were healthy but said needed to be removed for causing problems to highways or pavements.

A compromise deal was finally reached earlier this month, Sheffield Council and contractor Amey revealing plans to retain around 100 of the 305 trees previously earmarked to be felled by the end of 2017.

The removal of a further 100 will be phased over the next 10 years, while a new street tree strategy will be developed early next year.

Mr Gove, who had visited Sheffield at the height of protests, has launched a consultation on new proposals to see stricter measures brought in when it comes to decisions over urban trees.

“It’s right that the views of local people are at the heart of any decision that affects their community – and the futures of the trees that line their streets are no different,” he said.

“Trees have often been rooted in our towns and cities for many years, and are undoubtedly part of our local heritage.

“These measures will enhance the protection given to urban trees, ensuring residents are properly consulted before trees are felled and safeguarding our urban environment for future generations.”

Mr Gove appointed Sir William Worsley earlier this year to be national tree champion, with a remit to drive forward planting rates and prevent any unnecessary felling.

Welcoming the new consultation, Sir William said: “Urban trees are an amazingly valuable natural resource, and with this consultation I hope we can take further steps towards strong and robust protections to ensure their futures.

“By planting the right trees in the right place, we can ensure that they continue to improve health and well-being and encourage people to enjoy the outdoors.”

The new plans, being put out for consultation, would see new requirements for councils to consult residents on plans to chop down trees, additional responsibilities for councils to report on felling and replanting, and more powers for the Forestry Commission to tackle illegal felling, as well as strengthened protection for wooded landscapes.

The Forestry Commission’s director of forest services, Richard Greenhous, said the body recognised that trees and woodlands are under increasing pressure, particularly in urban areas.

“With this consultation, we hope to be able to better protect more of our cherished woodlands from illegal felling.”