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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

City council urged to halt urban tree felling

Catholic environmentalists have urged Sheffield City Council to listen to campaigners who are trying to halt a controversial street tree felling programme in the South Yorkshire city.

The campaigners announced last week that they would continue their fight despite losing a High Court battle with council bosses.

A judge recently made orders stopping people taking “unlawful direct action” after Labour-run Sheffield City Council asked for protesters to be ‘restrained’.
Mr Justice Males, who analysed evidence at a trial in Leeds in July and handed down a ruling in London last week, said council bosses were entitled to injunctions.

But campaigners say the council wants to impose ‘trespass laws’ on tree protests and stop peaceful protest. They say bosses have spent more than £400,000 of taxpayers’ money opposing the tree campaign, including £100,000 on legal fees.

Ellen Teague, of the Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, said protests had become much more common in recent times, as other ways to protect trees had not been effective.

“In Sheffield, I admire the Sheffield Tree Action Groups (Stag), which has been at the centre of opposition there to the destruction of thousands of mature and healthy trees,” she said.

“I find it shocking that the city council has spent over £400,000 of public money to oppose the street tree campaign, but not engaged with the thousands of campaigners to see why they are so outraged at the loss of the trees.”

Council bosses asked for orders barring three named people, including one of its own Green Party councillors, and ‘persons unknown’ from ‘continuing to take unlawful direct action’ or from encouraging others to direct action.

The three named people were: councillor Alison Teal, David Dillner and Calvin Payne. Ms Teague said the campaigners are not only protesting at felling sites but they are having to organise evaluations of the remaining healthy trees in Sheffield, placing a financial value on tree stock.

“It is important to note that they do support initiatives to remove unhealthy or unsafe trees,” she added.

“Very often, avenues of trees and specific trees are loved and valued by local communities. Under current council plans, 25 per cent of Sheffield tree canopy cover will disappear over a five-year period.”

Ms Teague revealed that the latest protest on 23rd August invited people to come and sing, and a song was written especially by a local composer.

Meanwhile, eco-theologian Dr Edward Echlin said: “Tree felling anywhere is serious. Trees are like close companions. They provide not only biodiversity and shelter but contribute to soil, food, climate, and clean air.”

The Honorary Fellow at Leeds Trinity University urged both councillors and objectors to provide reasons for their actions as the council recognises in the Streets Ahead movement.

“To fell a tree is to kill a companion,” he added. “As poet Joyce Kilner wrote, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree’.”

Ms Teague added: “On 1st September Catholics in Sheffield will join Catholics globally in celebrating the annual Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. This includes the care of trees wherever they are, whether in rainforests or in the urban environment of Sheffield.”

Picture: Sheffield City Council remove trees on on Chippinghouse Road, in Nether Edge, Sheffield. (Dave Higgens/PA Archive/PA Images).