Felling of Sheffield trees pauses

26 March 2018 5 minute read

The Vernon Oak is around 150 years old. Credit: ITV News

The felling of Sheffield trees pauses - offering a chance to review the evidence.

Sheffield City Council’s announcement that it is to pause felling of street trees is timely after the Woodland Trust and Trees for Cities presented evidence to the council questioning its tree felling assessments.

Three weeks after submitting an independent report, Sheffield City Council (SCC) has yet to respond to Trees for Cities’ and the Woodland Trust’s offer to fund a more cost effective and appropriate solution to save the Vernon Oak, leaving the future of the tree uncertain.

During the long running debate over the future of the Vernon Oak, one of the most iconic trees in Sheffield, residents and organisations have repeatedly argued that there is no need for such exaggerated measures as suggested by Sheffield City Council  to tackle the supposed conflict between this 150-year-old oak tree, and the highway and footpath constructed around it.

In late 2017, Trees for Cities, working with the Woodland Trust, made the bold offer to find funding for an alternative solution – one that would see the tree retained and resolve the conflicts suggested by SCC. Retention, we were told, would require funding in the region of £10,000 which subsequent investigations have proved to be a gross overestimation. A report commissioned by the charities also put forward cases where such issues were shown not to pose a significant threat to public safety and could be managed in much more measured ways. Since then, both charities have been waiting for a response from SCC, but the council has yet to agree or dismiss the charities’ solution.


We have contacted Sheffield City Council with a measured and cost effective solution to save the Vernon Oak, but it remains to be seen whether they will take the recommendations on board and act on evidence put forward by a highly regarded and experienced independent highways consultant. We urge the council to act reasonably, and preserve this tree, and the city’s reputation as one of the greenest in Europe.

David Elliott, CEO of Trees for Cities

A legitimate solution has been put forward at no cost to the council other than its pride. Passions are running high on all sides but decisions must be based on fact. An independent assessment concludes that the Vernon Oak does not need to be felled, and counters claims that to retain it would cost £10,000 showing Sheffield City Council’s estimate is enormously over inflated. This also casts doubt on decisions made for other healthy trees that face the axe as part of the Amey contract. We echo Trees for Cities calls for a measured response and once again offer our support to help broker solutions and find a better way forward.

Beccy Speight, CEO, Woodland Trust

Notes to Editors:

For further information contact Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121 or email nataliestephenson@woodlandtrust.org.uk, or Devika Jina, Marketing and Communications Manager at Trees for Cities on  020 7820 4416 or devika@treesforcities.org

The Vernon Oak was once a field edge boundary tree and was able to thrive and reach its full potential as a majestic landscape feature. Since then, development has encroached into its space – bringing hard surfaces and structures under its canopy, and right up to its trunk. Nevertheless, Vernon survives. This in itself is an important fact. Even with the stresses and challenges it now faces in a hard landscape, the tree remains perfectly healthy – evidence, if any were needed, that trees can thrive amongst us if we let them. Residents and professionals alike have pleaded with the council to make allowances for what is a minor conflict between one of the tree’s roots, and two ever so slightly displaced kerb stones on this residential cul-de-sac. Slight disturbance to the footway was also highlighted as a concern even though pedestrian traffic is minimal.

Through the Streets Ahead PFI contract, Sheffield City Council and Amey plc added Vernon to the list of condemned trees being felled across the city, citing highway requirements that necessitate either its complete removal, or expensive changes to the structure of the road that would eliminate the perceived threat of accidents. No evidence that such accidents have occurred has been provided. Even their solution, however, would be too expensive and out of consideration under the Streets Ahead contract – so would require external funding.

The solution 

The charities sought independent advice and approached a well-respected consultant to assess the tree, and then gave this evidence to an equally experienced highway engineer – both of which have significant experience in the conflicts between roads and trees. They gave us their professional opinion and legitimate solutions that we believe SCC should have considered. We even have examples of where these have been accepted legally – on much busier roads around the UK.

The level of risk posed by the slight encroachment of a root – into this quiet residential street doesn’t pose a significant risk.

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims:  i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

Trees for Cities works on an international scale to create greener cities for 25 years.  Engaging with communities and volunteers locally, we have planted over 700,000 urban trees in parks, streets, schools and housing estates across the world; revitalising these areas and improving the lives of the people who live in them.  

Trees for Cities focuses on planting trees and greening community spaces where the social and environmental impact on local people is greatest.  In London this might mean planting trees to clean the air, or transforming unused community spaces into vibrant green areas; whilst in Nairobi it’s planting fruit trees for food and sustainable livelihoods.

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