Sheffield tree controversy five years on - group holds vigil as council seeks inquiry chairman

An environmental group has held a vigil in Sheffield to commemorate the controversial felling of trees five years ago - an event which made international news.

SORT congregated by only tree to survive the night-time fellings five years ago to hold a vigil.
SORT congregated by only tree to survive the night-time fellings five years ago to hold a vigil.

In the early hours of the morning on November 17, 2016, Sheffield Council cut down seven trees on Rustlings Road, next to Endcliffe Park, which protesters had fought to protect.

The dramatic moment led to years of protests, petitions, arrests and controversy across the city over the council’s highways contract which saw thousands of street trees felled and replaced with saplings.

Five years on, Save Our Roadside Trees (SORT) held a vigil on Rustlings Road beside the only surviving tree today.

Police supported a pre-dawn tree-felling operation on Rustlings Road in November 2016.

SORT met by the ‘Ellen’ tree at 10am yesterday and held letters spelling out SORTED? to ask if more needed to be done to protect Sheffield’s trees.

Joint co-ordinator for SORT, Louise Wilcockson, said: “This tree has become symbolic of the movement.

"We had two trees with another named James after both James Mitchinson, (former editor of The Star and current editor of Yorkshire Post) and cartoonist James Whitworth but they were both cut down. We will always look after it now. She is still here and we’re still here keeping a watchful eye.

“Never has it been more important to recognise what trees do for us."

Last year the council was forced to apologise after a damning Ombudsman report found it had misled the public, misrepresented expert advice and acted with a “lack of honesty” over the tree saga.

An independent inquiry into the tree controversy is due to begin next year and was agreed when Labour lost overall control of the council in May, joining forces with the Green party.

"This week the council has advertised the role of an independent chairman to lead the enquiry.

Louise said: "We will continue to watch how Sheffield Council manages Sheffield's most valuable asset – it’s urban forest. The proposed Public Tree Inquiry has raised mix feelings in the city.

"Trees are really important to health, they have been proven to speed up the recovery rate of people in hospital who can see a tree out of their window.”

Louise added: “The chair should be independent but it is important that they listen to the tree panel.”