VIDEO: Hundreds join 'funeral' procession for Sheffield's street trees

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Hundreds of campaigners today joined a mock funeral procession for Sheffield's street trees, which they claim are being needlessly felled.

A hearse carrying a tree stump led a 'cortege' of around 300 protesters marching to the beat of a drum along Division Street from Devonshire Green to Barker's Pool, where they gathered for a rally.

A hearse leads the funeral process through Sheffield city centre (photo: Chris Etchells)

A hearse leads the funeral process through Sheffield city centre (photo: Chris Etchells)

'Mourners' laid flowers on the steps of Sheffield City Hall before numerous speakers addressed the crowds with a mixture of speeches, poems and songs.

Among those taking the microphone were Calvin Payne and Green Party councillor Alison Teal, who are due in court next Friday accused of breaching an injunction prohibiting people from protesting within safety barriers placed around trees so they can be axed.

Professor Ian Rotherham, an environmental expert at Sheffield Hallam University, called the felling of street trees an 'avoidable crisis' and described each one removed as an 'individual tragedy' for that tree and the community affected.

"They've created an environmental, social and economic disaster. Other cities around the country are watching Sheffield to see what happens," he added.

The hearse contained a tree stump and floral tributes reading 'trees of steel'  (photo: Chris Etchells)

The hearse contained a tree stump and floral tributes reading 'trees of steel' (photo: Chris Etchells)

Jared O'Mara, the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, was unable to attend but in a message to organisers said he extended his 'best wishes' to those protesters facing prosecution.

"I absolutely do not think that they nor anyone else should be prosecuted over this matter, and I admire their commitment to the environment and community," he wrote.

Campaigners braved the gusty winds and driving rain to attend the rally, and many dressed in black for the demonstration, while others wore yellow and white to symbolise trees and hope.

Many opted for humour on their placards, like the message 'stuck in the middle with yew', but others were more blunt, such as the sign presumably penned by one of the younger protesters which read 'go away naughty baddies that lie'.

Many protesters carried flowers, which they later laid on the steps of Sheffield City Hall  (photo: Chris Etchells)

Many protesters carried flowers, which they later laid on the steps of Sheffield City Hall (photo: Chris Etchells)

Sheffield's Labour-run council is pushing ahead with plans to cut down and replace 6,000 of the city's 36,000 street trees by the end of the year as part of a 25-year highways PFI contract with Amey.

The council claims the trees being removed are either dead, dying, dangerous, damaging the highway or restricting access to the city's roads and pavements.

But campaigners say healthy trees are being lost unnecessary because the council and Amey are unwilling to consider alternative solutions which could save them.

Although some protesters now accept there is little prospect of the council backing down, they told how they feel it is important to keep campaigning if it saves even one tree in the city and sends a message to local authorities elsewhere in the country considering similar measures.

Hundreds of people gathered for the rally outside Sheffield City Hall (photo: Chris Etchells)

Hundreds of people gathered for the rally outside Sheffield City Hall (photo: Chris Etchells)

You can see more footage from of the 'funeral' procession and rally on The Star's Facebook page.

The rally included speeches, poetry and music (photo: Chris Etchells)

The rally included speeches, poetry and music (photo: Chris Etchells)

The hearse was provided by Michael Fogg Funeral Directors (photo: Chris Etchells)

The hearse was provided by Michael Fogg Funeral Directors (photo: Chris Etchells)