Tree of the year award goes to 150-year-old London plane

Tree of the year award goes to 150-year-old London plane

10/22/2020

Tree of the year award goes to 150-year-old London plane on Hackney estate that is set to be felled within months to make way for housing

  • The Happy Man Tree was crowned the winner in the Woodland Trust’s annual competition by a public vote 
  • Its burgeoning presence in the community saw the mature tree easily beat out its nine shortlisted rivals
  • It is due to be felled under controversial plans for a 584-property  Berkeley Homes development in Hackney
  • Council claims saving the tree would delay construction by 15 months and result in fewer affordable homes

A 150-year-old East London tree set to be felled under controversial plans for a housing estate has been voted England’s Tree of the Year.

The Happy Man Tree was crowned the winner in the Woodland Trust’s annual competition after being championed by furious locals protesting Hackney Council’s green light to chop it down.

Its burgeoning presence in the community – the slogan #noticethistree is plastered on the trunk – saw the mature tree easily beat out its nine shortlisted rivals, taking almost a third of the vote and four times that of the runner-up. 

The Woodland Trust suggested the overwhelming victory underscored the importance of the tree and would embolden campaigners’ conservation efforts.  

Hackney Council claims that overhauling the 584-property Berkeley Homes development to keep the tree would delay construction by 15 months and result in fewer affordable homes. 

The company has agreed to plant 175 trees on two acres of public space in the development and to pay the council £175,000 to compensate the community for the loss of the tree. 

The Happy Man Tree was crowned the winner in the Woodland Trust’s annual competition after being championed by furious locals protesting Hackney Council’s green light to chop it down

Its burgeoning presence in the community – the slogan #noticethistree is plastered on the trunk – saw the mature tree easily beat out its nine shortlisted rivals, taking almost a third of the vote and four times that of the runner-up

2019 winner: The Allerton Oak in Calderstones Park won the tree last year. The Liverpool oak is believed to be about 1,000 years old

Adam Cormack, head of campaigning for conservation charity Woodland Trust said: ‘The local community has made a powerful case to retain the tree, adopting the slogan #noticethistree. We did notice, and so did thousands more.

‘In too many places we see well-loved mature trees lost to development rather than designed into plans from the start.

‘When this happens it’s a lose-lose situation. The tree itself is lost and people lose something that made their lives better.

‘Given the developer’s own admission that this tree could have been retained if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process, we must call this out for being a poor decision. And sadly one we see too often.

‘Efforts to create new homes and better places to live must start with protecting existing trees and their avoidable loss must always be prevented.

‘Planting new trees, while needed, will take years to have the same impact on absorbing carbon and cleaning air.

‘The legacy of this tree must be that the planning system, which is currently facing overhaul in England, should protect existing trees and local voices must be listened to when decisions on local trees and woods are made.’

2018 winner: This beech tree in Aberford, Leeds, was grafted into an N-shape to woo a woman called Nellie almost 100 years ago

2017 winner: The Gilwell Oak in Essex is believed to have been the hiding place of Dick Turpin and has become linked with The Scouts

The plane is one of 33 mature trees earmarked for felling as part of plans to redevelop Hackney’s Woodberry Down estate, which include 243 new affordable homes and a new public park the size of 29 tennis courts. 

It was nominated by parents and children who pass it on the school run and believe it is vital that a tree that plays a part in making the air cleaner for the community is saved.

Some other residents who live in damp, dilapidated council flats are annoyed that a single tree of a species found all over London is delaying construction of the better homes they were promised.

But resident and campaigner Noemi Menendez challenged the idea of a ‘binary choice’ between housing and the tree, saying that most residents want both.

She said: ‘Today is an important day for the campaigners of the Friends of the Happy Man Tree.

‘We are over the moon to have won this award and extremely grateful to everybody who voted for our tree.

‘Needless to say, we have all been challenged and pushed outside of our comfort zones in the face of the Covid pandemic.

‘Yet, this crisis has revealed new priorities in people’s lives. The message is clear, we need and want mature trees in our neighbourhoods.

‘It is a false argument that we only care for one tree and nothing else. We want the tree and the homes; they are both equally important.

‘The Happy Man Tree protest has highlighted the value that mature trees have in a community, their cultural and social importance based on memories, aesthetic features, and the sense of wellbeing they bring.

‘Keeping the Happy Man Tree would be a genuine gesture of acknowledgment of this.’

2016 winner: The famous Sycamore Gap tree is located in a dip on Hadrians Wall on the Scottish border

A rowan dubbed ‘The Survivor’ as just two decades ago it was the only tree in Carrifran valley in the Moffat Hills of the Borders won Scotland’s Tree of the Year. The once bare valley is now full of native trees after a restoration campaign.

And The Chapter House Tree, a historic fern-leaved beech that stands by the ruins of a Cistercian abbey in Margam Park, Port Talbot, was declared Wales’s Tree of the Year.

Now in its seventh year, the contest aims to showcase the UK’s favourite trees to highlight their value and need for protection.

But only on Tuesday, the 2015 winner, a 250-year-old pear tree in Cubbington, Warwickshire, was felled to make way for the HS2 rail line.

Residents told of their ‘utter devastation’ after the famous local landmark – thought to be the second-oldest wild pear tree in the country – was removed.

The Save Cubbington Woods group wrote on its Facebook page: ‘There is a sense of numbness as this takes its toll on us all.’

It said the tree had become symbolic of the movement to stop ‘the ill-conceived madness of HS2’.

Woodland Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said: ‘We are shocked and upset that HS2 have felled the historic Cubbington Pear, despite a long battle to save it.’

But HS2 officials said the tree near Leamington Spa would live on in the form of saplings grown from cuttings.

They promised to plant 6.2 hectares of woodland to compensate for the two hectares of countryside that will be lost. 

The proposed high-speed line will link London with Birmingham but has been criticised due to its rising cost and planned route through areas of countryside.

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