A protestor has now spent more than two weeks in a tree in Battersea’s York Gardens to stop it being cut down as part of a housing regeneration scheme.
Three activists climbed into the 100-year-old black poplar tree on Monday 22 February, when it was due to be felled to lay an electric cable.
Two of the tree protectors have come down, but one protestor known as Bradley says he will ‘push until the very end’ and claims security threatened to put up scaffolding to remove him.
He said: “Every day that I’ve been here is one day more of life that this tree gets to see, and I’m proud of that.
“It’s a constant battle. Every time we climb a tree and do this kind of stunt, it’s to bring awareness to the fact that we shouldn’t be going to this extreme.
“We should already have a voice in the matter and this is one of the cases where everyone agrees that these trees haven’t been voiced. We’re here to bring a voice to them.”
The black poplar is the first of 124 trees set to be felled in Wandsworth’s Winstanley and York Road estates as part of the proposed redevelopment.
Wandsworth Council’s tree officers class the poplar as an asset that can only be cut down if there are compelling reasons to do so.
A bird’s nest has also been spotted in the tree’s branches, which would make any felling illegal under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Bradley said he would remain in the tree for “as much time as I can stay here” but added that he would need to climb higher to find more shelter.
A court hearing about an eviction order will take place on Friday, and Dame Judi Dench is among the celebrities who have signed a petition and offered their support to the activist.
The independent group of activists are supported by Extinction Rebellion and have received widespread encouragement from Wandsworth residents.
Wandsworth Extinction Rebellion member Caroline Hartnell said: “It’s not a decision between homes or trees. We believe there can be homes and trees, in addition to the fact that these redevelopments could be done in ways that preserve the natural things that exist already.
“It’s a massive amount of devastation of nature that is planned, and we feel that no development should happen that involves any getting rid of mature trees or green spaces.”
‘Save the trees’ signs have been attached to trees around the park while actor Jason Flemyng showed his support by bringing a food package to the protestors earlier this week.
Locals have prepared meals to be carried up to the tree protectors and Bradley said he was overwhelmed by the community’s reaction.
He said: “It’s extremely beautiful and inspiring.
“When you are in the city and everyone sees what you’re doing and you see that you’re motivating people to take more action, you know what you’re standing for.”
The protesters were served an eviction notice by bailiffs and on Friday security services allegedly warned Bradley they would put up scaffolding to get him down.
Marcus Carambola, who spent 10 days in the tree before coming down on Wednesday, said security guards used dangerous methods to try to get protestors out of the tree.
He also accused security of attempting to ‘starve out’ the activists by blocking their access to food and drink before ‘political pressure’ meant the police intervened.
Carambola said: “They seemed to start off fairly humane, acknowledging that what we’re doing has a reason, and that we’re people with a cause.
“Then on Wednesday morning last week (24 February) we woke up to most of our supplies gone. Someone had climbed into the tree and cut them off.
“They also pulled on the tarps and blankets that we use to cover ourselves and tried to pull us out and tried to pull on a climbing rope that we were attached to. It was a really risky, dangerous thing.
“We saw the security guards starting to free-climb the tree without any working at height licenses – illegal and dangerous, a huge risk to their wellbeing as much as to ours, so that was quite frightening and worrying.
“They didn’t allow us food. Someone would come up to the fences outside and say ‘Hey, do you want some food?’ And we would say yes. Then the bailiff would check, thoroughly search through the food and even take picture IDs of the people giving it to them, which I find completely ridiculous. It’s just another hassle for the community.”
The activists’ demands to the council include halting all construction work and tree felling immediately, backing the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill presented by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, working with the Citizens’ Assembly to revise the project and making all empty properties available to people.
Wandsworth Council argue the regeneration scheme will lead to the creation of 136 new council homes for low-income residents.
In 2019 the council declared a climate emergency and set a target to become a carbon-neutral organisation by 2030, but the tree protectors say they have not adapted their plans to the ecological crisis.
Carambola said: “We do need improved homes for the people living in one of the oldest estate buildings, that is absolutely clear. But we must have new homes and old trees.
“The tree didn’t suddenly appear and happen to be a problem in the development. It was always here, and it needs to be factored in as a given and as an absolute asset that can’t just be got rid of because it might be slightly more complicated to run the cable.”
A spokesperson for Winstanley & York Regeneration, the joint venture behind the project, said: “During the planning process for the whole scheme many options were considered in order to retain this tree.
“Having carefully considered all options available to us prior to the submission of the planning application for these specific diversion works, the joint venture was, and remains, satisfied that it is unfortunately necessary for this tree to be felled at this point in the scheme.
“This important regeneration scheme will provide many hundreds of new affordable homes in a wide mix of tenures, alongside many additional new community benefits, including a new public park.
“Many existing trees have been retained in the scheme and there will be extensive planting of new trees.
“We hope for a swift and peaceful conclusion to the situation with the safety of the protesters, local residents and our staff and operatives our absolute priority.”
A council spokesperson said: “This site is needed to provide 136 new council homes for our residents on low incomes and in housing need, especially those currently living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.
“No-one wants to see mature trees lost but sometimes it’s sadly unavoidable, despite our best efforts in this case to find a suitable alternative solution.
“However as part of the regeneration scheme we are planting around 450 new trees around the estate and providing a new 2.5 hectare public park so that residents have newly created green outdoor space to enjoy.
“To ensure Wandsworth remains one of London’s leafiest and greenest boroughs we constantly plant new trees. Over the past three years we have planted more than 1,200 in our streets and parks and this winter planting season another 750 are being added.
“Overall we look after more than 50,000 trees in our streets and open spaces. We take these important responsibilities seriously and will only agree to a tree being lost if there is no alternative and only if a greater number are planted as replacements.”
Featured image credit: Anthony Jerman