Protests against tree-felling in both Sheffield and Doncaster prompted Doncaster Council to hold an independent review of its tree policy, which will be approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.
The original tree policy was written before Doncaster Council’s declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019 and DEFRA’s consultation on an England Tree Strategy for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Aimed at both improving Doncaster’s urban tree management and providing a “valuable contribution” to the borough’s net-zero by 2040 target, the plan involves the council’s proposal to spend £144,000 to plant 100 large trees along main roads to increase canopy cover over the next four years.
The review comes after public backlash over Doncaster Council’s controversial tree removal of 64 trees on Middlefield Road in Bessacarr which led to protests and an arrest in November 2020.
Kate Needham, Doncaster Green Party and street trees campaigner, said: “I am pleased that as a direct result of our protest a long overdue review is happening. Middlefield road was a fiasco. The mass felling of 64 mature healthy urban trees was unacceptable, unsustainable and should never be allowed to happen again.
“Beyond the scope of the policy, many trees are being lost to developments. Protection for these trees is something I’d like to see the Council officers and planning department working together on going forward.
“If Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) don’t adhere to the spirit of the policy then rest assured, we are here and we will challenge poor decisions and raise public awareness. DMBC, don’t be another Sheffield.”
Bethany Haley, senior programme and projects manager at Doncaster Council, said: “Following high profile tree issues in Sheffield and recent discussions with activists around Doncaster tree removal schemes, an independent tree policy review was initiated [to ensure Doncaster’s] policy was fit for purpose.”
“Doncaster Council is committed to the principle of minimal tree removal, considered only a last resort, where no alternative solution can be found.”
She said the review of urban tree management highlighted several areas for improvement, particularly the way the Council communicates its planned works to residents and interested parties.
The independent review, which was undertaken by Professor Ian Rotherham, urban wildlife expert from Sheffield Hallam University, found Doncaster locals have “serious doubts about the positive statements” and are concerned “considerations of finance, perceived risk and damage and of nuisance will override the desire to retain mature trees.”
Paul Martyn, member of the Sheffield Tree Action Group, said he is sceptical about Doncaster Council’s words and intentions. “There are good examples of street tree strategies out there, which are based on good arboricultural practice. Doncaster needs to take these as their starting point rather than somewhat bland statements of good intent.”
Warren Draper, photographer and Doncaster resident, took part in the Green Party’s protests last year against the felling of street trees in Middlefield Road. “There was some public consultation but the full scope of options hadn’t been put to the residents…[authorities] never talked about the engineering solutions that were available, especially after the Sheffield tree protests. It was either ‘do this or we’re not going to look after your streets, that was the ultimatum they got’.”
Mr Draper said he is cautiously optimistic that the Council will implement the changes: “Damian Allen, the chief executive of Doncaster council, is an ecologist and he’s done some great stuff…but there’s just a lot of systematic problems.
“The council systems have been in place for a long while, so it takes time for those to adapt and for people in certain roles to get the message. It’s great that they’re going forward, but we’ll have to see in practice what that means.”
Fiona Cahill, Green Party Parish councillor for Sprotbrough, Doncaster, said: “In a climate and biodiversity emergency, we need to protect mature canopy. Doncaster Council must stop turning healthy mature trees into chipwood in the the name of street maintenance when there are good alternatives in the case of genuine access issues.”