Protestors halt felling of York Gardens tree after occupier removed

Protestors have halted the felling of a tree in Battersea’s York Gardens after an activist who spent nearly three weeks living in it to stop it being cut down was removed.

The High Court granted a repossession order for the 100-year-old black poplar following a court hearing on Thursday and two climbers got tree protector Bradley Bird down yesterday.

Tree surgeons began cutting down the poplar after a mother and her children blocked their van’s access to the tree along with other protestors, before the fellers were told to stop.

The company tasked with the felling, Graftin Gardeners, received emails, phone calls and tweets from those opposed to the felling, according to protestors.

Independent activist Maria Gallastegui was part of the protest and said there was ‘major damage’ to the tree with only half of the canopy remaining, but added that she was hopeful this would be a turning point.

She said: “The community realise the value of the tree now, it’s woken everybody up. 

“It was horrific to see this beautiful tree being cut, it’s a terrible sight to watch.

“We are more vigilant now to protect the tree than ever because the tree has undergone major damage today.

“I don’t know whether it’s recoverable, but from where I’m standing it still looks beautiful.

“Developers have to design accordingly, because this sort of reckless development planning has to stop.

“We know at some point there’s a watershed moment where it will have to change. I’m hoping now it will be here.” 

The fellers parked their van after the mother and her three children were joined by other protestors in the road, but Gallastegui said they then went on foot to cut down the tree.

Protestors say they felled large parts of the poplar, including a branch containing a nest found to be inactive by an ecologist earlier in the day, before suddenly stopping.

Three tree protectors supported by Extinction Rebellion climbed into the poplar on Monday 22 February when it was due to be felled as part of a new housing regeneration scheme, and Bird was the last to remain in its branches.

The tree is the first of 124 set to be felled as part of the proposed redevelopment of Wandsworth’s Winstanley and York Road estates and the council’s tree officers class it as an asset which can only be cut down if there are compelling reasons to do so.

Bird previously said: “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.”

Earlier a crowd of residents and protestors gathered around the tree to chant ‘Let’s breathe, save the trees’ and ‘Save the planet, save the trees’.

Celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Sting and Bob Geldof came out in support of the tree protectors’ cause this week, while they received widespread encouragement from Wandsworth residents.

Wandsworth Extinction Rebellion member Caroline Hartnell said she felt ‘angry, sad and frustrated’ at the felling and questioned why the council hadn’t reconsidered their plans. 

She said: “It makes me feel a bit sick to see them come in so quickly to chop it to the ground. 

“We hear more and more about the value of mature trees for individuals, for the climate, for pollution, for everybody’s wellbeing. 

“People talk about a climate emergency and they seem to have absolutely no appreciation of it at all, it’s like it wasn’t there.”

Wandsworth Council say the regeneration scheme will make way for 136 new council homes for low-income resident but those who are opposed to the felling say it should be possible to have homes and mature trees.

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.”

Featured image credit: Vania Flaccomio

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