It cost a city more than 5,000 of its trees, but an agreement announced today by Sheffield City Council means there is finally the prospect of meaningful reconciliation after eight years of tension over the mass felling of healthy street trees that led to public outcry, a government investigation1 and dozens of arrests.

Half of Sheffield’s street trees were marked for felling under Streets Ahead, a controversial £2.2 billion road maintenance programme between Sheffield Council and its contractor AMEY.  Thousands of mature trees will now be saved as a result, including 20 healthy First World War memorial trees on Western Road and 120 year old Chelsea Road Elm.

The dawn fellings and opposition of city residents attracted criticism of the council and its contractor Amey from conservationists, celebrities and politicians, including then Environment Secretary Michael Gove who accused Sheffield City Council of "environmental vandalism" and promised to do "anything required" to end its controversial tree-felling programme.

It is therefore quite remarkable to see that from today the city now has one of the most robust and transparent approaches for street tree management, and one the Woodland Trust is hoping other councils will look to follow.

Read the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership Working Strategy.

The progress was reached by all sides negotiating over seven months. Led by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, representatives of STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Groups), the Woodland Trust and various subject experts took part in a programme of workshops to reach an agreement with Sheffield City Council and its contractor Amey.

Joseph Coles, urban lead of the Woodland Trust who sat on the panel drawing up the new plan for Sheffield, said:

“This is a well-earned victory for democracy, and the residents of Sheffield who fought so hard and at personal cost to protect their city’s trees. With the help of local and national charities, there is now a robust way of working that will involve consultation to avoid indiscriminate felling of healthy trees. We are waking up to a climate crisis. We need more trees, now, and we need to retain the ones we have wherever it’s safe to do so.

“This is not the end of the story, we know that tensions still exist. The real measure of success will be achieving the vision for a greener, more collaborative Sheffield. The outcome of the Sheffield saga has far reaching consequences and that was always one of the driving forces for residents taking action -  changing the system alongside their own battle. I would also like to recognise Liz Ballard CEO of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust in particular, for establishing and leading such an innovative approach to collaboration to get us here.

“Sheffield was the start of a debate that has led to serious reform: the England Tree Strategy, manifesto pledges to consult on tree felling, commitments to increase canopy cover, a £10 million fund for urban trees – with more to come.

“This week is also going to be important for street trees as conservative backbencher Chris Clarkson MP is bringing a ‘street tree bill’ for its second reading, aligned to the manifesto pledge for trees on all new streets.

“If the Government has a tree strategy, and will require councils to have a tree strategy, this one is the exemplar for how they should be developed – in partnership with all stakeholders, including protesters and campaigners who can be a force for good. That will be Sheffield’s positive legacy.”

Clive Anderson, barrister, broadcaster and president of the Woodland Trust, said:

“How good to hear that the long running saga of Sheffield and its street trees may yet have a happy ending after all.

“We need all the trees we can get, and all the mature street trees we can hang on to. Well done to the people of Sheffield and the campaign groups who have taken to the street trees and spoken out and campaigned on their behalf. Your voices have been heard. And well done to Sheffield Council for listening, at last. I hope the people - and the local authorities in other cities and towns up and down the country - have listened and learned as well.”

Notes to editors

For media queries please contact Natalie Stephenson in the Woodland Trust press office at nataliestephenson@woodlandtrust.org.uk

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:

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. 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 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

Footnote 1: In early 2018, the Forestry Commission (FC) began an investigation and published its findings in July 2019. It heavily criticised the council and its contractor, but stopped short of prosecution. They asserted that Sheffield City Council’s tree felling contravened the Forestry Act 1967.