I’ve been silent on here for a while recently for various reasons, and one of them has been the difficulty of putting into words how distressed I feel about the wholescale felling of mature street trees in my beloved adopted city of Sheffield.
To recap briefly,there are plans to chop down up to EIGHTEEN THOUSAND trees as part of a £2.2bn deal which involves the city council handing over to Amey plc, a multinational company with headquarters in Spain, the responsibility for ‘upgrading’ and maintaining our streets.
Our glorious street trees, some of which were planted more than 100 years ago, are clearly standing in the way of Amey’s profits and, as a result, thousands of them are likely to disappear in the interests of efficiency and satisfying shareholders.
One of the most upsetting aspects of the debacle is the fact that we seem so desensitised as a society to the profoundly serious business of destroying just one tree, a living organism that supports a myriad other forms of life, from insects that are barely visible to the human eye to bats, birds and small mammals such as squirrels.
By chance on holiday I started to read Derek Walcott’s celebrated epic poem Omeros, and found in the opening stanzas a description of how the men charged with chopping down trees to make canoes for the island community had to get half-drunk before they could make the first cut.
… we pass the rum. When it came back, it
give us the spirit to turn into murderers.
I lift up the axe and pray for strength in my hands
to wound the first cedar.
Most of us moderns are long way from this kind of understanding, but yesterday in Sheffield a band of dedicated protesters managed to delay the destruction of a tree on one of our residential streets by standing underneath it until the contractors were forced to halt their operations.
Today, the chainsaws returned, this time accompanied by South Yorkshire Police, who warned the demonstrators they were in danger of arrest.
They gave them five minutes to clear the street and I will be forever grateful to the cellist Tim Smedley, who used the time to play Pau Casals’ ‘Song of the Birds’
It was a rare moment of reverence in this terrible saga, a chance to pause and think about the desecration that we humans are wreaking on the more-than-human world, a terrible destruction that we have barely begun to comprehend, not just in Sheffield but right across the globe.
For an excellent summary of what is going on in Sheffield, take a look at the Sheffield Tree Action Group FAQ page here. The picture at the top of this post shows the threatened elm tree I wrote about here.