A Hackney plane tree has been crowned England’s Tree of the Year for 2020, after the public voted overwhelmingly in its favour.

But not all votes have gone the Happy Man Tree’s way. Last month, it was decided that the tree will be felled before the year is out to make way for redevelopment.

Now in its seventh year, the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year contest aims to showcase the UK’s favourite trees to help show their value and need for protection. It is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery which gives a £1,000 care award to the winning trees. 

The Happy Man Tree is a street tree outside the now demolished Happy Man public house in Woodberry Grove, just off Seven Sisters Road. It was nominated for the contest by members of the public during spring’s lockdown and shortlisted for the public vote.

Adam Cormack, head of campaigning for the Woodland Trust said:

“The local community has made a powerful case to retain the tree, adopting the slogan #noticethistree. We did notice, and so did thousands more. In too many places we see well-loved mature trees lost to development rather than designed in to plans from the start. When this happens it’s a lose-lose situation. The tree itself is lost and people lose something that made their lives better. 

“This is not a simple case of good and bad. The redevelopment is to provide important social housing and Hackney Borough Council has been doing some great work to increase green spaces including setting a borough-wide target to increase tree cover. But, given the developer’s own admission that this tree could have been retained if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process, we must call this out for being a poor decision. And sadly one we see too often. Efforts to create new homes and better places to live must start with protecting existing trees, and their avoidable loss must always be prevented. Planting new trees, while needed, will take years to have the same impact on absorbing carbon and cleaning air. ”

The 150 year old tree came to prominence in the borough of Hackney after the local community realised it was earmarked for removal as part of plans to re-develop the Woodberry Down estate. It was swift to make its objections and create a website, install art works and set up a petition to stoke interest in the plight of the London plane which is one of 33 mature trees to be felled.

The group has repeatedly challenged the developer’s decision to frame the issue as a binary choice between housing and the tree, saying that most people in the area want both.

Noemi Menendez, a Woodberry Down resident who is part of the community efforts to save the tree, said:

Today is an important day for the campaigners of the Friends of the Happy Man Tree. We are over the moon to have won this award, and extremely grateful to everybody who voted for our tree.

“Needless to say, we have all been challenged and pushed outside of our comfort zones in the face of the Covid pandemic. Yet this crisis has revealed new priorities in people’s lives. The message is clear, we need and want mature trees in our neighbourhoods.

“Planning with a heart will solve the problem we have faced during this campaign; it is a false argument that we only care for one tree and nothing else. We want the tree and the homes; they are both equally important. The Happy Man Tree protest has highlighted the value that mature trees have in a community, their cultural and social importance based on memories, aesthetic features, and the sense of wellbeing they bring.  Keeping the Happy Man Tree would be a genuine gesture of acknowledgment of this.”   

The tree is expected to be felled this year but the Friends of the Happy Man Tree say they are still campaigning for the tree to be saved.

Adam concludes: “The legacy of this tree must be that the planning system, which is currently facing overhaul in England, should protect existing trees and local voices must be listened to when decisions on local trees and woods are made. Trees have a huge positive impact on people’s quality of life, but this needs reflecting in national planning policy and local decision-making. We only have to look to the example of this year’s Tree of the Year runner up. The 500 year old Grantham Oak was retained by 1940s planners when developing the market town of Grantham. The housing next to the tree was designed in a crescent to accommodate the canopy of the tree. So it is maybe not a case of new thinking, but back to the old.”

The winning trees for Wales and Scotland were also revealed:

  • Scotland - The Survivor Tree, Carrifran Valley in the Borders
  • Wales -The Chapter House Tree, Margam Park, Port Talbot

Will Humpington, advisor of climate change & environmental programmes at People's Postcode Lottery said:

“I’m really pleased our players are supporting the Tree of the Year competitions, which continue to build a deeper connection between people and the nature that’s around them. The stories behind this year’s winners demonstrate just how much people love trees, and the time and energy they are prepared to invest in protecting them. It shows people have special connections with some wonderful trees in all types of neighbourhoods, from remote valleys to city streets.”

Notes to editors

For further information please contact Natalie Stephenson preferably via mail: nataliestephenson@woodlandtrust.org.uk  /  media@woodlandtrust.org.uk  
or mobile 07725 480434

The Friends of the Happy Man Tree can be contacted at happymantree@drifting.org.uk

Profiles of 2020’s Tree of the Year winners

Scotland: The Survivor Tree, Carrifran valley in the Borders

Scotland's Tree of the Year is "The Survivor" at Carrifran valley in the Borders. This lone rowan became an important emblem for a restoration group fundraising to buy the land 20 years ago. "Where one tree survives, a million trees will grow," became their mission statement for the Millenium. That mission has been accomplished and the once bare valley is now full of native trees. The lone survivor is lonely no more and stands as a wonderful symbol of what can be achieved. Borders Forest Trust's Carrifran Wild Wood shows the way ahead in tackling the dual crises in climate and biodiversity.

Wales: The Chapter House Tree, Margam Park, Port Talbot

Standing in the shadows of 17th century Margam Orangery and St Mary’s Church, this historic fern-leaved beech envelopes the remains of one of the first Cistercian abbeys in Wales. Its canopy has provided shelter to visitors for many years - from Victorian tea parties taking place under its sweeping boughs to a favourite summer picnic spot for present day visitors. The tree provides an atmospheric back drop and is loved by cinematographers, featuring in TV and film productions from Dr Who and Songs of Praise with Sir Bryn Terfel to the recent Netflix blockbuster series Sex Education.

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.

People’s Postcode Lottery

People’s Postcode Lottery manages multiple society lotteries promoted by different charities and good causes. People play with their chosen postcodes for a chance to win cash prizes. A minimum of 32% from each subscription goes directly to charities and good causes in Britain and internationally. Players have raised more than £600 million so far. For details of the charities and good causes which are promoting and benefiting from the lottery draws, please visit www.postcodelottery.co.uk/good-causes/draw-calendar

It costs £10 a month to play and winning postcodes are announced every day. The maximum amount a single ticket can win is 10% of the draw proceeds. For details, please visit www.postcodelottery.co.uk/prizes

New players can sign up to pay using direct debit by calling 0808 10 9 8 7 6 5. New players who sign up online at www.postcodelottery.co.uk can pay using direct debit, debit card or PayPal.

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