My city is one of the greenest in the country, known as ‘the outdoor city’ its pockets of green spaces and its close proximity to open countryside give it its semi rural feel. Sheffield straddles post industrialism with nature easily, perhaps because it has always mixed the two. Factories back onto the river. Parks and gardens over-look the busy town centre. And suburban streets are lined with trees, providing the name ‘the leafy suburbs’. But these streets have had a fight on their hands lately. One which they seem to be losing.
When Sheffield city council proposed felling trees on leafy suburban streets there was talk of dead trees, diseased trees, and dangerous trees. These trees sounded like a menace and the way they were described to the people of the city was full of fear. But it soon became apparent that some of these trees, perhaps the majority of them, were actually a mere nuisance. One person’s nuisance is another person’s delight and protests gathered pace.
The trees line the pavement and there are some people who may well find their bulky roots a nuisance to have to manoeuvre around, but these voices have been few and far between. It seems most people who live on these streets love the trees that sway in the views from their windows, drop apple blossom onto the walkways, and rustle in a gentle evening breeze.
The protests became heated. People were arrested for obstructing the felling of healthy beautiful trees. Petitions were signed and delivered to the council. Voices were raised, and heard, but not listened to.
On Abbeydale Park Rise the trees facing the chop were originally paid for by residents and two elderly women who collected funds and persuaded the council to plant them, still live there. The beautiful cherry trees on this street are marked for felling and these two women in particular now have to witness the premature death of the trees they planted outside their own homes. A Stocksbridge oak which was 450 years old has been felled. The Chelsea Road elm, one of only a thousand mature elms left in the country, is marked for felling. A great oak on Vernon Road, Dore, is 150 years old and currently awaiting its fate. Residents have submitted their second preservation order after their first was rejected. And the Western Road War Memorial Trees, planted in memory of pupils of Westways School who died during world war one, are being discussed.
There are years of life left in all of these street trees, but preserving them and maintaining the paths around them would cost more than simply chopping them down. Residents have offered alternatives to felling and are actively raising money to help cover costs, but councillors are unwilling to consider them. Their coffers would be poorer if they preserved, but these streets are a hundred times poorer without their magnificent old trees.
More information at https://savesheffieldtrees.org.uk
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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