Campaigners form human chain in protest at Sheffield tree felling

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Campaigners have formed a human chain around Sheffield Town Hall in a peaceful protest against the felling of the city’s trees.

Hundreds of people, all dressed to demonstrate a ‘yellow ribbon’, formed an unbroken line around the building in the protest today against the city council’s plans.

Over recent weeks, campaigners from the Sheffield Trees Action Group (STAG) have tied yellow ribbons around all the trees the authority is proposing to fell.

Today, as 600 people gathered outside the Town Hall, themselves forming a yellow ribbon, protest organisers say they hope it brings home to the authority the strength of feeling - and the sheer numbers of people opposed to the plans.

“We could have gone twice round there were that many people there,” said organiser and concerned resident Nat Loftus. “People are so angry. They just feel so powerless.”

The 36-year-old, of Walkley, said today’s protest was an attempt to share with residents the extent of the tree felling.

Picture of the protest from organiser Nat Loftus

Picture of the protest from organiser Nat Loftus

“We wanted to do something that was simple but would have a high visual impact to demonstrate the scale of what is happening,” she said.

“There are lots of protests happening for individual areas but we wanted something that could show what is happening across the city.

“This is huge. And yet we just feel so powerless in the face of these big authorities.”

Sheffield City Council is felling trees as part of a city-wide tree replacement programme, carried out by Amey.

Crowds gather outside the Town Hall. Picture by organiser Nat Loftus

Crowds gather outside the Town Hall. Picture by organiser Nat Loftus

The council says it is removing trees that are dangerous, diseased, dead or dying or causing damage or obstruction to pavements and replacing them with new ones. But campaigners claim many of the tree removals are unnecessary.

Russell Stearman, from Meersbrook, was at the protest today with his wife Nikki and two young children. He said this was about trees and the city’s wellbeing. “The felling is happening and we have not been consulted enough, or early enough.

“We are thinking about our children. It’s about the landscape they are going to grow up in, and their children are going to grow up in.”

Mrs Stearman said felling had been taking place where her she lives in Meersbrook, and also where her children go to nursery in Nether Edge. “Look how many people have turned out on a cold January day,” she said. “They obviously care about it, and feelings are running high. I hope the council listens.”

The peaceful protest. Picture by organiser Nat Loftus.

The peaceful protest. Picture by organiser Nat Loftus.

In November contractors chopped down trees on Rustlings Road near Endcliffe Park in a 5am raid that led to two women in their 70s being arrested.

Now, as the peaceful demonstration drew crowds of hundreds, campaigners say they hope their message will be heard.

“Every time you turn a corner in Sheffield there are these trees and the yellow ribbons for as far as the eye can see,” said Mrs Loftus.

“I wanted to take that image for each single tree and put it in the middle of the town in a big way for everybody to see.

“We thought we might have to stretch - but there were so many people we could have gone round it twice.

“People are very angry,” she added. “We feel powerless, we have just been told this is what’s happening.

“I live on a street where there isn’t any risk - so I’m not consulted. But I walk past trees every day that form the landscape of the city, yet I haven’t got any say at all.

“It’s amazing that so many people came out. It proves we can stand up against this and we just need to keep fighting.”

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “Between 5,600 and 6,600 trees may need to be replaced during the first five years of the Streets Ahead contract. In addition, using an assumption that 200 trees per year will die or be damaged over the remaining 20 years of the programme, another 4,000 trees will need to be replaced. Ultimately, Sheffield will have more trees than it had before the programme began.”