A group of protesters has occupied a Wandsworth estate for ten nights in a bid to stop 123 trees from being cut down.
Campaigners built a makeshift campsite on Winstanley and York Gardens on Sunday April 18 and erected wooden structures and banners to protest housing development plans, supported by Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey, which would see 123 mature trees felled to make way for new tower blocks.
Four protesters slept on the site on Wednesday April 21. One of them was 50-year-old mother Emma Buckley, who admits she hates camping.
Buckley said: “I had 30 minutes sleep, but I’m very glad I did it. It’s not me at all, I don’t even camp on an inflatable mattress.
“The reality is in 30 years time, if we don’t do anything, these new homes that are being built are going to be pretty much uninhabitable because of the rise in temperatures in London. That’s what we’re up against, the shortsightedness of ‘oh we need new homes’. Yes but we need our trees equally, it’s not either or.
“I want to make a point that someone like me, who has a very full life, who has a job, who has a home, we can all do something that we think is completely beyond us. Because it requires this individual action and raising people’s awareness of what we’re up against.
“I really hope I don’t have to camp out again, if I’ve got to be honest. But if we can start to change the perception of the people that do these sort of actions, they’re not tree-hugging whatever but ordinary people like me, doing things like that, then I will do it again. I’m 50, I had to roll my back out three times, all my body was bruised.”
Buckley, who is not a member of Extinction Rebellion, was involved with a previous protest against the felling of a Black Poplar tree in York Gardens just a few weeks before, in which protesters occupied its branches for three weeks.
The Black Poplar was chopped down following a High Court repossession order in March.
Winstanley and York Gardens resident, Dmitri Barsoukov, 57, who initiated the campaign, said he was inspired after he saw Extinction Rebellion activists occupy the Highbury Corner Dixon Clark Court site to save six trees from being felled.
The campaigners have urged Wandsworth Council to halt all construction work and tree felling, back the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill and set up a legally binding Citizen’s Assembly.
The protesters also demanded the council conducts extensive air quality assessments on the site and uses existing empty properties before building more.
A Wandsworth council spokesperson said: “These protestors are delaying and obstructing the start of work to build 136 new council-owned social rent homes for residents on low incomes and in housing need, especially those currently living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.
“Alongside these additional council homes we are planting around 450 new trees on 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 during this winter planting season another 750 have been 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.”
A spokesperson from Winstanley & York Road Regeneration said they had nothing more to add.
Campaigner and York Gardens resident Dmitri Barsoukov said planting more trees to replace those which have been cut down is “nonsense”.
He said: “It will take decades and decades for them to grow, to come even close to what a mature tree can do. But also where I live, just in front of my house, nine mature big, huge trees will be cut and the new block will be just in front of me. No green space. Wall to wall.
People are working more and more from home, it’s very important you see from your window, not directly your neighbour, but a tree or space.”