Many people contacted us and others took to the streets to protest about the Streets Ahead programme. They were extremely concerned about the amount of mature street tree felling taking place in Sheffield and its impact on wildlife, health and other environmental benefits that urban trees provide.
As part of the Streets Ahead contract, Amey’s Tree Team were tasked by the Council with managing the 36,000 trees on the road network across the city.
During the first five years of the contract, around 5,500 trees were felled on a ‘remove and replace one for one’ basis. This was an unprecedented number of street trees being felled in a relatively short period of time, often concentrated in residential areas where mature trees have been a well-loved feature of the street.
Many local residents, including many of our members, were greatly concerned about the scale of the tree felling programme and its impact on the city’s wildlife as well as the significant reduction in other environmental benefits that street trees provide.
The main areas of protest and controversy was in relation to proposed or actual felling of:
- Healthy mature trees that fall in to the above 6Ds (more information below)
2. Significant trees, e.g. for cultural reasons such as memorial trees
3. Distinctive individual trees or avenues of trees and the approach to communication, transparency, consultation and handling of the felling decision process, increasingly involving the police, security guards, security fencing and court cases against protestors.
There were extensive protests in some areas of the city particularly affected by the tree felling programme, causing delays and pauses to works, police involvement and arrests.
Our Position (updated in 2018):
We asked Sheffield City Council and Amey to work together with us, local partners and communities, using mediation if necessary, to develop and deliver an agreed, 20-year partnership Street Tree Strategy for Sheffield that will:
- Retain the more distinctive, individual street trees, investing in their future management, e.g. the Chelsea Road Elm Tree and the Vernon Oak
- Consider a longer-term rotational approach to felling and replanting important tree-lined avenues, such as Rivelin Valley Road
- Not use ‘lack of funds’ as the sole reason to fell a ‘difficult’ tree – by allowing funds from other non-Council sources to be used to contribute to the management and engineering solutions for these trees
As well as:
- Promote wildlife and biodiversity, achieving a net biodiversity gain
- Engage the local community and supports community cohesion
- Contribute to addressing air pollution and health inequalities across the city
- Contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to the impacts of climate change, including flood protection and city cooling
- Increases the general understanding of the need to manage and value street trees
- Restore or increase the urban canopy cover, with additional, appropriate planting of new urban trees
- Identify and secure additional support and resources for the planting and management of urban trees across a partnership of public, private and community sectors
Care of street trees presents unique challenges as they are often coping with things like traffic pollution, road salt, compacted soils and drought. Despite the sometimes tough highway environment, the Street Tree Working Strategy recognises the contribution of street trees to health and wellbeing, air quality and other ecological and environmental benefits. It outlines new ways of working around six outcomes to ensure the city’s network of street trees is well-maintained and sustained for the future by:
- Sustainably and carefully managing our street trees in accordance with best practice
- Ensuring our street trees are more resilient through the type and age of trees we plant and also how we manage the current street tree stock
- Increasing the value and benefits that flow from our street trees
- Contributing to a more equal distribution of urban forest across the city to promote health & wellbeing
- Increasing street tree canopy cover
- Involving the wider community in caring for and valuing street trees
SRWT’s campaign 2013-2021- highlights:
We became aware of the potential issues and added Sheffield Street Trees to our active campaigns, putting information on our website and responding to concerns from our members.
We highlighted our concerns about street tree felling directly to Amey and in May we held ‘An Evening with Amey’ for our members and the public for people to be able to ask questions directly to the senior Amey Manager responsible for street trees and verges.
We put our first position statement on our website – highlighting the value of mature street trees, that removal really must be only a last resort and the poor consultation process. We continued to liaise with both concerned residents and Amey. We encourage all residents to question reasons for removal.
Dr Nicky Rivers, SRWT Living Landscape Development Manager sat as a panel member on the two ‘Highway Tree Advisory Forum’ meetings in July where ~100 member of the public were present. She suggested engineering solutions and further sources of information to Sheffield City Council and said:
- The public would like to know from Cllr Fox whether the felling pause on Rustlings Rd will continue and whether the Forum has a chance to influence anything or not.
- We welcome the announcement that there is going to be a tree strategy and hope that we will be involved in this. We agree with Prof Dunnett (who said it should be ambitious) and that is should include a good assessment of the value of trees (and perhaps the University can be involved in this) as we do not think this has been given adequate weight against other considerations.
- That the communications have been poor. For example, when trees are assessed, Amey staff take notes, but there is not a standard form or checklist that can then be shared with interested/ concerned members of the public for them to look at, understand and ask questions if they want to. The tree walks do not work with large groups so this way people could have something to look at. The whole process needs to be made more transparent in this kind of way.
We were invited to the meeting where Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG) was born. Nicky Rivers attended the meeting on behalf of the Trust but we decided not the join STAG but to retain our independence and continue to liaise with residents, local groups, Amey and SCC.
We publicly and robustly voiced our concerns about the Council and Amey’s approach to felling, such as the felling of trees on Rustlings Road, in the early hours of the morning accompanied by the police.
We wrote a letter to Sheffield City Council, Amey and the Independent Tree Panel on 20th January 2016 highlighting our concerns over the Chelsea Elm Tree and the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly population that it supports, including evidence collected by our lepidopterist Ben Keywood.
Our CEO Liz Ballard wrote and published a letter to Cllr Bryan Lodge, Sheffield City Council on in December, making eight suggestions on how the situation could be improved.
We continued to liaise with members of STAG and local groups across the city.
We published Cllr Lodge’s reply to our letter in March.
We met with Cllr Lewis Dagnall (who took over the portfolio from Cllr Lodge) and officers from both SCC and Amey. We particularly focus on issues of wildlife and natural environment concern, including whether the Council has given regard to the NERC Act duty under Section 40, specifically:
(1) Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.
(3) Conserving biodiversity includes, in relation to a living organism or type of habitat, restoring or enhancing a population or habitat.”
We took legal counsel and considered legal action in relation to the future of the Chelsea Road elm tree, which supports a colony of s41 priority species – the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, as an example of the contravention of the NERC Act s40 by the Council, and to illustrate our concerns about the wider tree felling programme. Please see our letter to Sheffield City Council’s solicitor which provides an overview here. As a result of potential legal action, the Council began to discuss options with us for the future of the Chelsea Road elm tree.
In September we met with Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss the street trees issue and visited a number of threatened trees with him. Following the meeting, we exchanged letters with Mr Gove about further steps and the Government’s proposals for a duty on Local Authorities to consult about proposed street tree felling.
Dr Nicky Rivers spoke at the Trees of Steel Rally in October.
In February 2018 we negotiated an agreement between Sheffield City Council and the Save Nether Edge Trees group which enabled a more sympathetic approach to management of the Chelsea Road elm tree and mitigation of the impact on the associated White-letter Hairstreak colony.
Following this, the tree was carefully pruned on 23 February 2018, when we examined the resulting cuttings for White-letter Hairstreak butterfly eggs (see photo of volunteers inspecting branches above). Two eggs were found, which were relocated and believed to have successfully hatched in nearby Chelsea Park. The small number of eggs found is due the majority of the colony remains within the tree canopy. The tree is no longer scheduled for felling although it will be reviewed regularly.
Dr Nicky Rivers spoke at the Get off of my Tree Rally in April.
We were invited by STAG to Sheffield’s first Street Tree Festival on Saturday 29th September, where our CEO Liz Ballard presented copies of The Lost Words book by Robert Macfarlane to local schools – a very successful campaign organised by STAG and supported by ourselves.
Streets Ahead announce a pause on tree felling in March and enter into a series of mediated talks with STAG. This resulted in a joint position statement in December – the start of a new way of working.
The Council, Amey and STAG representatives The Sheffield Street Tree Partnership was established with SRWT’s CEO Liz Ballard Chair and SRWT also providing the secretariat function. SRWT focus on the partnership going forward, rather than campaigning. Streets Ahead and STAG publish a review of tree investigations: lessons learnt and activities.
The Sheffield’s Street Tree Strategy Group published a draft Street Tree Working Strategy in March 2020. Developed by Sheffield City Council and Amey with ourselves, local partners and communities from across the city, the strategy aims to deliver an agreed, partnership approach to the maintenance of Sheffield’s Street Trees over the next 20 years.
We supported the establishment of a volunteer Street Tree Warden scheme which was successful in recruiting ~50 Street Tree Wardens.
August 2021. Publication of the final Sheffield Street Tree Strategy.