Opinion: Peterborough City Council must not be allowed to fell ancient oak tree

The campaign group to save Bretton’s ancient oak tree from being felled hits back at the council’s decision that the tree must go.

By Ben Jones
Monday, 27th June 2022, 5:00 am
The ancient oak tree in Ringwood, Bretton.
The ancient oak tree in Ringwood, Bretton.

The City Council has declared that an ancient Oak tree in Bretton will be felled on the 28th of June, after a 10 month battle by residents to save it. Local residents have shared their devastation at the news. One resident Emma Bothamley expressed that she is brought to tears at the thought of this loss. Alan Gasparutti, wrote on Facebook that in Bretton alone 180 strong trees were felled in the past year. Richard Elmer of Ringwood, expressed how the area around his home now feels like a war zone, since many of the trees in his street have been removed.

Richard along with a group of residents have been working with solicitors and the council to save the tree from the axe. The oak tree has been implicated in damage which appeared on a nearby house. In 2018, a crack appeared in the house and it was speculated that the tree, along with the unusually hot summer may have been responsible for the damage. Surveys investigating the damage and possible remedial works were sought by the council and despite the fact that it is not certain the oak is responsible for the damage, the council have apparently decided to remove it in case of future damage which could leave them liable to a claim.

This decision has left residents fearful that any tree could be removed to prevent imagined future losses.

Oak trees have a special place in British psyche, known as ‘the King of trees’ they were considered sacred and seen as the connection between heaven and earth. The Celtic name for oak, daur, is the origin of the word door, Oak were considered to be a doorway to the Otherworld. Oak trees continued to hold a special place in folklore and myth long after the druids and this continues in modern day culture. Oak trees are still depicted as mysterious beings in film and story, with Pan’s Labyrinth being a modern day example.

Many residents feel strongly that a 300 year old Oak is part of their heritage and the inheritance of their children. Local nurse Anna Bunten told the Peterborough Telegraph “The Bretton Oak is a similar vintage to the in the centre of Peterborough and many hold its presence with the same reverence. How would residents feel if the Guild Hall was proposed to be bulldozed?”

As a City we are not immune from the climate and ecological emergency and the loss of biodiversity is evident in Peterborough, as it is globally. The city council declared a climate and ecological emergency in 2019 and committed to be carbon neutral by 2030, removing an ancient tree is counter intuitive to this position. It would take many decades for any replacement saplings to match the carbon sequestration capabilities of a mature tree and ancient Oaks are regarded as having more associated species of wildlife than any other native tree.

Local environmentalist not only recognise the importance of this tree but that this is symbolic of a wider story, if as a city we are serious about creating a healthy environment for our residents, we need to take our responsibilities to the natural environment seriously. Natural capital, such as trees and green spaces are important for our mental and physical health and without biodiversity our entire ecosystem is at risk of continued collapse.

Healthy people need a healthy planet, it is important that we recognise the economic thinking which has brought humanity to this precarious cross roads, between civilisation and nature. Peterborough City Council has declared an intention to be “the Environment Capital” something that will not be realised if they do not prioritise and protect nature and value the gifts of our natural history.

The Trees of Peterborough Facebook group have engaged a solicitor (Tree Law UK). They have looked at the report that the council has commissioned and comments that it provides no evidence that the tree is to blame. On that point if the council were to fell the tree they would be breaking the law – The Environmental Act 2021. The council seem to ignore that the law changed in November 2021 to prevent local authorities doing exactly this, felling trees as a precaution. Peterborough City Council have been offered a solution by installing root barriers by a local company Ethical Arboriculture, at cost price.

The insurance company (Legal & General) cannot refuse root barriers as a solution providing they meet building regulations and are an accepted solution. Peterborough City Council have used root barriers in the past.

In any case, cost does not come into this issue. You simply cannot ignore or break the law because it is cheaper.

Bretton residents are calling for anyone who wants to protect this tree to join their Facebook group ‘Trees of Peterborough’ or to contact ‘Extinction Rebellion Peterborough’.

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Anger at Peterborough City Council's decision to chop down 600-year-old oak tree