There has been a ‘chainsaw massacre’ across Britain as councils chop down more than 670 trees a week in streets, parks and woodland, figures reveal today.
Local authorities have felled more than 100,000 trees in the past three years alone.
Britain needs a massive expansion of its tree cover, but the latest statistics suggest not enough is being done to protect vital trees, campaigners say.
Today, the Daily Mail announces full details of its ‘Be a Tree Angel’ campaign to coincide with National Tree Planting Week.
Its aim is to plant thousands more around the country to make the UK a greener and more pleasant country.
Pictured: The A259 at Angmering, Worthing before a row of mature trees were razed so the road could be widened
WORTHING BEFORE… AND AFTER
Drivers were greeted with a scene of ‘devastation’ when a row of mature trees was razed – so the road could be widened.
The stretch of the A259 from Angmering roundabout to Roundstone bypass in Worthing, West Sussex, looked like a bomb had landed after the clearing earlier this year.
One local said a preservation order could have saved the trees, adding: ‘The trees felled, due to their age and magnificence, are irreplaceable.
Drivers were greeted with a scene of ‘devastation’ when a row of mature trees was razed – so the road could be widened (Pictured after)
‘The most distressing aspect to this devastation, all down to the duelling of this part of the A259, is it will only be a temporary fix to the traffic congestion.’
West Sussex County Council said: ‘This was essential preparation work ahead of the major A259 improvements scheme to widen around 2km of single-lane road.’
Town hall officials have admitted to destroying 105,810 trees since 2016, new figures obtained by the Mail show.
Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said: ‘These numbers are very concerning. Urban trees are very important – they’re a habitat for wildlife, they help reduce pollution and fight climate change.
‘We should be increasing canopy cover in our towns and cities, not further reducing it at a time when we need trees more than ever.
‘There are plenty of ways that healthy street trees can be kept in place without the need for cutting them down, but local authorities need the resources to do this.’
The true number of trees felled is likely to be far higher than the Mail’s figures reveal because only around half of the 408 councils contacted responded to our Freedom of Information request.
SHEFFIELD BEFORE… AND AFTER
More than 3,000 of Sheffield’s 36,000 roadside trees were felled before a campaign forced a dramatic U-turn.
The trees were reduced to stumps after the council agreed a 25-year, £2.2 billion deal with construction firm Amey to improve roads.
The local authority said the trees were damaging roads or obstructing pavements – and were being replaced with saplings.
More than 3,000 of Sheffield’s 36,000 roadside trees were felled before a campaign forced a dramatic U-turn
The trees were reduced to stumps (pictured) after the council agreed a 25-year, £2.2 billion deal with construction firm Amey to improve roads
But residents said healthy trees had been felled to make road resurfacing and maintenance cheaper.
In July, 200 trees which were due to be felled were saved.
Campaigners had risked arrest by standing under threatened trees in a bid to stop the felling programme that began in 2012.
Sheffield City Council was contacted for comment.
While many trees are diseased or may be unsafe and need to be cut down, local authorities also cite other grounds for removing them, such as ‘shading’, ‘soil erosion’, making way for off-street parking or to reduce maintenance costs.
In one case, trees were cut down in a street in Birmingham because they were said to be ‘the wrong species’, while elsewhere trees have been felled for pushing up pavements with their roots.
Councils insist many more trees are being planted for each one cut down, but it takes around 100 saplings to reduce pollution and suck in greenhouse gases to the same extent as a mature tree.
Campaigners warn that cowboy tree surgeons who cut down trees in defiance of preservation orders are also to blame.
Of the 408 councils contacted, 218 provided answers to questions on the number of trees cut down in the past 36 months. The local authorities that chopped down the most last year included the London boroughs of Redbridge, which chopped 1,267 down, Ealing (795), Enfield (663) and Richmond and Wandsworth (641 each).
Elsewhere over the same period, Welwyn Hatfield in Hertfordshire cut 542, and Bedford removed 542. In the West Midlands, Dudley council took the axe to 596, while Leicester city council axed 1,248.
In the North, Northumberland cut 1,366 and Newcastle axed 545, while Sefton in Merseyside lost 642, the East Riding of Yorkshire destroyed 681 and Kirklees in West Yorkshire got rid of 630. In Scotland, Glasgow chopped down 589.
Large trees absorb harmful particulates that can lead to disease. But projects to build homes and roads have led to culls in cities such as Newcastle, which was highlighted by the World Health Organisation as a pollution hotspot.
Sheffield City Council sparked major protests from residents when it signed a controversial 25-year deal for highways maintenance with contractor Amey, including a target to remove 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees and replace them with saplings.
Since 2012, 5,610 have been felled in Sheffield, with the council defending the cull as a ‘last resort’.
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political adviser to Greenpeace UK, said: ‘We get emails every day from people distraught at beloved trees being felled, and Sheffield has shown this isn’t a minority view.
‘But trees in residential areas do far more than enhance the view – they save lives through reducing air pollution and storing carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere, slowing climate change.
‘But we need many more. That means as well as tree-planting projects like the Mail’s, we need government to invest significant amounts of money in trees, and all of us to place a greater value on the trees we already have – that includes councils only reaching for the chainsaw as a last resort.’
Yesterday, the National Trust welcomed the Mail’s campaign, in partnership with the Tree Council, to get Britain planting more trees. John Deakin, the National Trust’s head of trees, said: ‘We are delighted to be supporting the Mail’s Tree Angel campaign.
‘We care for 25,000 hectares of woodland – equivalent to 30,000 Premier League football pitches. Our woodlands are home to incredible wildlife and are visited by millions of people each year.
‘Time spent in woodlands is good for you. Research has proven the value to people’s wellbeing. Trees have an amazing ability to provide space to breathe and relax, provide a home for nature to thrive and allow us to lock up carbon.
‘It is vital that we plan now for their future so we can tackle climate change and species decline. That’s why planting and caring for trees through this campaign and our own work is so important.’
by Colin Fernandez
WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE CAMPAIGN?
Together with our charity partner, The Tree Council, the Daily Mail wants to encourage readers and organisations to plant or pledge as many as a million new trees across the UK – with great giveaways and expert guides to help you get started.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
There will be lots of ways you can show your support and ‘Be a Tree Angel’ this Christmas, whether planting trees in your garden, supporting planting initiatives in your area or donating money to fund planting projects where they are needed most.
Visit www.beatree-angel.co.uk for more details.
IS IT JUST ABOUT CHRISTMAS TREES?
No – we want to plant more trees of every kind in the UK, including 1,000 new orchards for 1,000 schools, at a time when we all gather round the Christmas trees in our own homes.
WHO SAYS WE NEED MORE TREES?
The Government, the Committee on Climate Change, scientists, environmentalists and the nation’s Tree Champion, Sir William Worsley, agree increasing Britain’s tree cover is vital.
WHY DO WE NEED MORE TREES?
Trees give us oxygen, store carbon, improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil, support wildlife and are one of the key solutions to climate change. They also beautify our communities and boost our wellbeing.
WHAT IS THE TREE COUNCIL?
The charity runs National Tree Week, in which groups including the Woodland Trust, Trees for Cities, The Conservation Volunteers, the Orchard Project and National Trust celebrate trees and organise an exciting range of planting projects and activities across Britain, starting today.
WHAT THREATS DO OUR TREES FACE?
Millions of Britain’s ash trees are at risk from ash dieback, oaks are under threat from the oak processionary moth and horse chestnuts from bleeding canker, to name a few.
CAN’T THE GOVERNMENT PLANT MORE?
The Government is boosting efforts to plant trees, but it is still falling short of the huge number we need in the UK.
HOW MANY TREES DO WE NEED TO PLANT?
The Committee on Climate Change recommends we plant 1.5billion by 2050 and increase our hedgerows by 40 per cent.
This would boost tree cover in the UK from 13 per cent of land to 17 per cent – the equivalent of filling more than 46,000 football pitches each year, or an area three quarters the size of the Isle of Wight.
We also need to take better care of the trees we have, because mature ones provide so many vital benefits.
CAN I PLANT A TREE IN MY GARDEN?
As part of our campaign, you can claim a free, grow-your-own Christmas tree sapling to have delivered to your door – perfect for planting in a pot and teaching children how to nurture a tree that you can bring inside EVERY Christmas.
You can also claim a £5 garden centre gift voucher towards a tree of your choosing. Plus, every day next week you’ll have a chance to get a different variety of tree FREE.
Readers who have nowhere to plant a tree can pledge money or donate Nectar points – and trees will be planted on your behalf around the UK. See Page 34 for details.
DON’T NEWSPAPERS COME FROM CUT TREES?
Newspapers are mostly made from recycled paper – the average recycled paper content of newsprint was 69.2 per cent last year. The remainder comes from timber grown in softwood coniferous forests, mainly in North America and Europe, where for every felled tree, two or three are planted.
This newspaper has been committed to keeping the environment clean and green for more than a decade, with high-profile campaigns against plastic pollution in our seas and supporting local litter-picking.
In 2012, the Daily Mail campaigned to plant trees in a new National Forest and planted thousands for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED IN NATIONAL TREE WEEK?
Help make Britain greener in your neck of the woods by taking part in one of the many planting events organised to celebrate National Tree Week.
You could help reforest areas of Dartmoor and South Devon, or make London greener through one of the many urban planting events organised by Trees For Cities, among many other initiatives.
Log on to treecouncil.org.uk/take-part/near-you for more information on a planting in your area, or to find out how to volunteer for these events.
How YOU can be a tree angel this Christmas: JOHN HUMPHRYS launches Daily Mail crusade to plant up to a million trees to make Britain greener and healthier
One of the trickiest things about leaving a job you’ve done for a very long time is the departing gift. You know your colleagues will give you something — either because they enjoyed working with you so much or because they’re delighted they’re finally seeing the back of you.
But what if you don’t like the present? Imagine it’s a picture, for instance, that’s so ghastly you have to hang it in your garden shed. Back-to-front.
After 33 years on the Today programme I was worried about it. I knew I’d be feeling a bit emotional after I’d finally said my last ‘good morning’ but how would I feign gratitude for a gift that I probably wouldn’t have chosen for my own worst enemy? I am, being a Welshman, a natural pessimist…
So it was with some trepidation that I was told I had to join the Today team in the newsroom after the Radio 4 pips had faded away to watch a video that they had made for me.
John Humphrys (pictured) launches the Daily Mail’s crusade to plant up to a million trees to make Britain greener and healthier
This, I assumed, would be the usual bit of mickey-taking nonsense from old friends and colleagues that invariably precedes the inevitable gift ritual. It would be well-meaning but mildly humiliating.
Ten minutes later I was trying to hold back the tears. Tears of gratitude.
It’s thyme to change the way you think of rosemary
By HANNAH DAWSON
It was sacred to the Ancient Egyptians and Romans, while today it’s rather useful in adding flavour to roasted lamb.
But far from being a unique herb, rosemary, it turns out, is just a type of sage. So the Royal Horticultural Society has decided it needs to be reclassified.
Until now, rosemary has been known by its Latin name Rosmarinus officinalis, given in 1753 when the international classification process for plants began.
However, research shows rosemary is a type of salvia, like sage, so it will now be known as Salvia rosmarinus.
The plant is a huge contributor to the growing herb market in Britain, which is currently valued at £166 million.
The RHS said it would change its plant labels in its gardens and shops.
It based its decision on research by the University of Nebraska in 2017 which showed that, on a genetic level, rosemary and sage were rather similar. The stamens of rosemary are different from sage – but not different enough, it seems.
John David, head of horticultural taxonomy at the RHS, said: ‘Not everyone will approve of this change in the scientific name of a much-loved garden plant but it is important that our naming system reflects the latest science otherwise it stands to lose its meaning.’
The video began with the Today editor Sarah Sands standing in the garden of my house 250 miles away in West Wales with a spade in one hand and a young tree in the other.
She said a few typically witty words to the camera and then she planted the tree. Then she planted two more — each of them was a wonderful specimen of fruit trees unique to that area of Ceredigion.
But it would not have mattered what they were. There is, quite simply, no gift that compares to the gift of a tree.
Too grandiose a statement? Perhaps. After all, gifts come in so many forms. We might treasure a diamond for its beauty. A great book will take us to another world. So will a Mozart concerto or a Turner painting.
But we can live without all of those. Most of us do. A diamond set in an engagement ring can carry a powerful message of love — but so can the warmth of a hug. And, yes, it’s true that the lives of many of us would be much the poorer without access to great literature and music and art. But we’d survive.
And then there are the ultimate gifts: good health and, above all, the well-being of our children. Surely those are gifts beyond value? Indeed they are. But trees give us all those things.
And that’s why this newspaper’s Christmas campaign is so important. The fact is that without trees, life as we know it on this glorious planet simply could not exist.
As I write that sentence I know what you’re thinking: he’s banging on about the rainforests again. Well, I make no apology for that.
As everybody knows by now, trees suck in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Without oxygen no animal can survive. The rainforests do much more than that. They contain about half of all the different species of plants and animals known to exist.
As everybody knows by now, trees suck in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, writes John Humphrys (stock image)
Vast numbers of plants are still waiting to be discovered and no one knows how many of them will help people with diseases for which there is no known cure.
And I haven’t even touched on climate change yet. To allow the destruction of the rainforests would be tantamount to denying our children and grandchildren their future. You might say: but it’s not us ‘allowing’ it and you’d have a point.
We can’t stop ruthless dictators or rapacious corporations bent on destruction in pursuit of profit whatever the consequences.
Yet there are things we can do. And we can make an impact if only because there are more of us than there are of them.
We can refuse to buy products containing palm oil for a start.
Countless millions of acres of virgin rainforest with their irreplaceable ecosystems are being burned down as I write to grow the palm trees that produce the wretched stuff. We can tell the supermarkets we don’t want it. They’ll listen eventually.
And remember this. The rainforests account for less than three per cent of the world’s land mass. That leaves an awful lot of land capable of growing trees that should be growing trees. And much of it is in this country: the parks and waste ground in our towns and cities; the low grade agricultural land that has to be saturated in chemicals to produce a few miserable tons of food such as oilseed rape.
This form of farming benefits no one but the landowner banking the subsidy cheques. It destroys the insects and the birds and the very soil which is the source of all life.
Former environment secretary Michael Gove himself has warned that parts of this country are 30 to 40 years away from ‘the fundamental eradication of soil fertility’. And what about our own gardens? Or perhaps I should say what remains of our gardens.
A Royal Horticultural Society survey shows that more than three times as many front gardens are completely paved over today compared with ten years ago. That means that more than five million front gardens have no plants growing in them at all, let alone trees. And what about our back gardens?
A survey for estate agent Foxton’s found that the top dozen most popular features include ten different types of flowers, a garden gnome, garden furniture, a barbecue, a shed and a vegetable patch. Trees did not appear in the list.
Isn’t that just a little strange? Of course it’s possible that those who were asked simply overlooked that old lime tree that was at the end of the garden when they bought the house. It’s a bit of a pain having to rake up its leaves in the autumn and it doesn’t actually do very much does it?
Oh but it does.
Trees are magnificent. The great poets have always recognised that whether they are searching for the meaning of mighty trees marching through the woodland as Rudyard Kipling did so powerfully in The Way Through The Woods or the simplicity of that little poem by Joyce Kilmer with its famous opening lines: ‘I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.’
And so many of our finest artists have relied on trees to create some of their most enduring work.
The power and beauty of John Constable’s greatest landscapes surely lies in his trees: dominating his views of Salisbury Cathedral or The Cornfield or even his masterpiece, The Hay Wain.
But not even the greatest artists over the centuries have been able to portray the almost magical power of trees — partly because the scientists of their day lacked the knowledge and partly because so much of it is invisible. It happens deep beneath the soil. We have to rely on writers for that.
For me, one of the greatest novels of recent years is The Overstory by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Charles Powers. It is based in part on The Hidden Life of Trees by German forester Peter Wohlleben who has spent most of his life studying them.
The great revelation for me was the extent to which trees communicate with each other.
I had always assumed that plants competed with each other for survival and it is indeed true that the weak are more likely to die and the strong to thrive.
But studies in Germany show that individual trees of the same species connect with each other through their root systems. They exchange nutrients with each other and help each other.
They have a social network not unlike a colony of ants. Not only do they share the available food within their species, says Wohlleben, they often nourish their competitors. All that happens underground.
What happens above the ground is equally extraordinary. At first glance it seems that as it grows in the forest a great oak forces its mighty branches into whatever space it can find to benefit from as much light as possible. But it’s far more complicated than that.
If they really were competing with fellow oaks they might well kill off their neighbour and they need their neighbour to form the forest canopy from which they both benefit. So their very stoutest branches are grown in another direction. It makes sense when you look up more closely at that forest canopy.
I’ve been doing a lot of that in the past few years. When Sarah Montague ambushed me after this newspaper revealed that I planned to leave Today, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I blurted out: ‘Trees!’ The fact is that we must have more of them. And the sad reality is that we are not doing enough. Nothing like enough.
There is an annual budget set by the Government for planting more. It works out at about 20p per person in England. That’s a decrease of more than half in the last four years — and that’s a disgrace.
It’s partly why I’ve been filming trees in both new forest and ancient woodland for a Channel Five programme next week supporting the Woodland Trust’s appeal. And that’s also why I’m writing this piece in support of the Daily Mail Christmas Appeal.
The campaign aims at nothing less than a massive boost in tree planting across the land.
With the Tree Council and other charities money will be raised to support local tree planting projects — including a thousand new orchards for a thousand schools.
Every Mail reader will be given the chance to claim a voucher for a free tree to plant in their own garden.
There is nothing as magnificent as a truly ancient tree but nothing as inspiring as watching children rushing off into new woodland to inspect the saplings they planted a year ago.
Most campaigns exhort us to do good things that demand an element of sacrifice. Nothing wrong with that: it’s good for the soul as well as the cause.
But the genius of this campaign is that we’ll be doing something that is hugely enjoyable and is literally life enhancing for each and every one of us.
One scientific study after another has shown that spending time with trees is positively good for both our physical and mental well-being, quite apart from the wider benefits: a healthier world for our children to inherit.
It may seem a little strange to be thinking of planting trees in the depths of winter but now is the perfect time.
Yes, the trees have shed their leaves but those very leaves will nurture the earth they fall on. And any dead branches will, in decades and centuries to come, feed the trillions of micro organisms and fungi that will nourish the trees through their lives.
So let me finish with one more poet: Philip Larkin. He ends his poem The Trees with two lines that I like to think sums up this great Mail campaign.
I imagine him writing in a forest whose trees seem to have closed down for the winter but which are, of course, throbbing with life below the ground:
‘Last year is dead, they seem to say. Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.’