Who are STAG?
STAG stands for Sheffield Tree Action Groups. STAG exists as an umbrella group to represent all tree groups throughout Sheffield. Its purpose is to lead a city-wide campaign to encourage the local authority to adopt a responsible, sustainable approach to management of the city-wide tree population – the urban forest.
What do STAG want?
STAG wants to persuade Sheffield City Council to put a stop on tree planting and on all tree felling operations that do not include works to trees that represent an immediate and reasonably foreseeable danger of serious harm or damage in the near future, until a tree strategy has been commissioned and adopted as Council policy and is adequately resourced and ready for implementation.
STAG seeks to encourage Sheffield City Council adopt and implement an adequate tree strategy, as Council policy, in order to help ensure a planned, systematic, integrated, sustainable, strategic, proactive approach to all aspects of the urban forest management and practice in every land use category.
The strategy will encourage and enable a more open, honest, transparent, consistent approach, with greater accountability. It will also help ensure that assessments are balanced and that acts and omissions are proportionate, defendable and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions.
Who are Streets Ahead?
Streets Ahead (SA) are the Sheffield City Council (SCC) and Amey partnership. In 2012 Amey entered into a PFI contract with SCC worth 2.2 billion pounds up to 1.2bn of that is taxpayer’s money – from the Department for Transport. The contract puts them in charge of “upgrading” and maintaining our streets in Sheffield for 25 years. It is important to note that SCC are responsible for overseeing Amey in their execution of the contract and have to sign off on all felling. (For more on the PFI contract on the Resources page).
How many trees have we lost so far?
At the inaugural meeting of the Highway Trees Advisory Forum, on 23rd July, 2015 Steve Robinson stated that 2,563 highway trees had been removed.
But on 17th November, 2015, at a Streets Ahead Roadshow event in Heeley, Sheffield, Amey’s Operations Director for the Streets Ahead project – Darren Butt – informed citizens that more than 3,500 highway trees have been felled. So, over a four month period, 1,000 highway trees were felled!
This number has now gone above 4000 and the felling continues.
How many trees are they going to chop down?
SCC and SA have been quite evasive and inconsistent with their figures and projections. But according to Cllr Leigh Bramall (Deputy Leader of the Labour Council & Cabinet Member for Business, Skills & Development),
“the contract says up to 50 % of trees can be removed, erm, and actually that’s 18,000”
(Source: spoken during the “debate” about issues raised by SORT, at the meeting of full council in Sheffield Town Hall, 1st July, 2015)
This means that another 14,500 trees could be felled before 2018.
In 2012, the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation interviewed Steve Robinson (SCC former Head of Highway Maintenance) for their professional publication Transportation Professional. The December issue reported:
“By the time you read this three areas of Sheffield will be undergoing a top to toe make over of their streets as the city’s maintenance PFI starts in earnest. Over the first five years of the 25 year Streets Ahead deal concessionaire AMEY will… tackle these and a further 105 zones of the city in order to reverse decades of underinvestment.”
“Also included in a very long list are items like replacing half of the city’s 36,000 highway trees”
Why are they felling our trees?
STAG believe that both Cllr Fox (Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport) and Streets Ahead have misunderstood what is meant by the terms mature and over mature and this is crucial to how they act, or do not act, toward the management and maintenance of highway trees in Sheffield
SA have interpreted the results of a 2006/2007 “independent” highway tree survey, commissioned by the Council, to indicate that 75% of Sheffield’s highway trees are reaching the end of their natural life, on the basis that they have been categorized as mature or over-mature and that many require treatment. Cllr Fox has stated that the survey:
“helps us inform our priorities…”
and that there are very few young highway trees. Cllr fox has assumed that all these observations represent
“evidence” of “a rate of decline”.
In addition, Streets Ahead have stated:
“The survey also indicated that around 10,000 highway trees required intervention and that if a programme of sustainable replacement did not commence, then a catastrophic decline in tree numbers would occur.”
The terms mature and over mature are often used in tree population surveys to categorise trees by life-stage. These terms do not indicate rate of decline, health condition, structural condition, or level of risk or likelihood of harm or damage (whether to the environment or inhabitants). We are concerned that felling is being prescribed without adequate and reasonable assessments being commissioned or completed. It is evident from Freedom of Information (FOI) request responses and SA communications that a sustainable, strategic approach to tree management has not been adopted.
How do SCC and SA currently choose which trees to fell?
The Council are using a system they call the “6 Ds” to assess our trees.
The 6Ds stand for
As with anything in nature, trees are not uniform. This is why it is essential that an adequate tree strategy is adopted and implemented.
As stated in Trees and Towns II documents:
“…the introduction of Community Strategies has already begun to focus attention on the need for the Tree and Woodland Strategy to have policies that allow decision making to be transparent and consistent.”
(Britt, et al., 2008, p. 626)
We feel there is a complete lack of transparency and consistency in the carrying out of this contract which is leading to unnecessary loss of healthy trees.
But aren’t trees dangerous?
We believe that Councillors repeated assertions that trees are dangerous is disproportionate to the actual level of risk.
The National Tree Safety Guide (NTSG) provides:
“Guidance to help owners and managers make reasonable decisions about tree management needs to be backed up by reliable data on the actual level of risk posed by falling trees.”
“Research identified 64 deaths (due to trees) during the 10 years after 1 January 1999. With a UK population of roughly 60 million, this leads to an overall estimated risk of about one death in 10 million people per year from falling or fallen trees and branches.
So far as non-fatal injuries in the UK are concerned, the number of accident and emergency cases (A&E) attributable to being struck by trees (about 55 a year) is exceedingly small compared with the roughly 2.9 million leisure-related A&E cases per year.
children’s swings (10,900)
and even wheelie bins (2,200) are involved in many more incidents.”
Source: Taken from a study by the centre for decision analysis and risk management at Middlesex University to quantify the risk of fatal and non-fatal injuries from falling or fallen trees and branches to the uk public commissioned by the NTSG.
In conclusion you forty times more likely to be injured by a wheelie bin than a tree!
What is The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) guidelines?
The UKFS guidelines are based on International Principles and criteria for Sustainable Urban Forestry.
“Sustainable forest management is the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”
“apply…to all UK first types and management systems, including collective tree and woodland cover in urban areas” (Forestry Commission, 2011, p.4)
In our opinion, and in line with widely recognised good practice and guidelines, no consultancy firm would say that a high percentage of mature trees need to be felled in a 5-year period. The immediate losses incurred would be too great. Instead they would suggest a sustainable management plan in accordance with the principles, criteria and guidance of the UKFS and in accordance with EU Directive 2001/42/EC.
Aren’t they replacing trees 1:1 though?
One mature tree absorbs 50kg of Carbon every year*. A sapling absorbs 1/50th of that rate.
*for an average mature tree 1 meter in diameter
Highway trees, with their medium and large crowns make a significant contribution to the canopy cover that defines the urban forest and provide millions of pounds worth of ecosystem services* each year, as evidenced by the Forestry Commission’s assessment of these services in Edinburgh, Torbay, Wrexham and London. They are a key, significant component of the green infrastructure and urban forest. However, the majority of these are the very trees that Amey has identified for felling during the first five years of their contract (i.e. before 2018), as they often are identified as the cause of pavement “ridging” and the dislodgement of kerb stones. * “Ecosystem services can be thought of as the link between ecosystems and human well being. They describe the processes by which natural ecosystems provide resources (used actively or passively) that sustain and benefit people” (Forestry Commission, 2011, p. 9)
A city-wide felling programme for street trees, like the one currently in effect, will have significant negative impact on the shape size and distribution of cover and on the magnitude and value of a range of associated ecosystem services afforded by trees to the environment, and all its inhabitants: such as sustainable urban drainage and filtration of airborne particulate pollutants. According to DEFRA, these pollutants cause heart and breathing problems that cost the NHS £9.1-21.4 billion per year!
On 3rd November, 2015, BBC Look North reported that poor air quality in Sheffield is costing £160m/yr. Look North claim that the figure comes from an Air Pollution Report published by Public Health England. They also reported that the Sheffield City Council estimate that poor air quality causes over 500 premature deaths per year in Sheffield.
The planting of saplings cannot offset these likely and reasonably foreseeable, serious losses. To offset the loss of provision of just one ecosystem service, as the result of the loss of one large-crowned tree, we understand that 60 saplings would need to be planted. So, we feel that SCC and SAs proliferation of the idea that a sapling is a like-for-like replacement for a mature tree is misleading and inaccurate.
“It is only when a tree reaches and lives through a mature stage that the return on the investment made to plant and care for that tree is realised. Depending on species, it takes between 15 and 40 years for a tree to grow a sufficiently large canopy to deliver meaningful aesthetic, air pollution removal, rainwater management, and other benefits. From a nature conservation perspective, the older a tree, the richer its wildlife. As a result, even when the planting of a new tree compensates for the felling of an older one, a significant loss is incurred.”
(Trees and Design Action Group, 2012, p. 21)
I heard that the Council set up a Highway Trees Advisory Forum what is this?
We were hopeful that the Highway Trees Advisory Forum would provide a good platform for dialogue between SCC and the people of Sheffield for a better understanding of the issues and progression towards a solution. But sadly to date this has not been the case.
Why doesn’t the Forum work?
- The Forum has no constitution (From FOI 606 Freedom of Information response we know that the Forum has no constitution)
- The Forum was chaired by Cllr Terry Fox himself. It is highly questionable whether Cllr Fox himself should be Chair to an Advisory Forum in which he has invested interests. Instead STAG would argue, that the Chair of the Forum should have been appointed by majority vote, by the representatives of key stakeholders. Cllr Fox is known to have strong vested interests and biased, uninformed opinions, as evidenced by his acts and omissions to date.
- Over half the panellists (see Resources for the list) consist of representatives from Amey and the City council. STAG would have expected to see representatives from the private and voluntary sectors, totally independent of Amey or the Council and without bias or conflict of interest/s.
The official beliefs and opinions of Amey and the Council need to be scrutinised by competent professionals. There is a distinct absence of independent representation from the fields of urban forestry, arboriculture, highway engineering, health & safety assessment and legal. Sadly, this leaves campaigners with no moratorium and the continued felling of trees without a tree strategy in place.
I heard that now the Council have a new Independent Tree Panel isn’t this good?
Cllr Fox had a meeting with two of our senior campaigners and made no mention of this new panel, 48 hours later he announced it on BBC radio. Piecing it together, we understand that the Council have now set up an additional Tree Panel of 5 members who are ‘independent’ and ‘credible’ to examine residents views where 50% of surveyed local residents raise concerns.
According to the Sheffield Star, this new Panel of 5 will apparently consist of 2 lay people, 1 housing, 1 tree and 1 legal expert. While it is laudible to take the discussion to a more local level, we question how the views of this new panel are going to be aligned with the advice already given by experts who have kindly offered their time to the Highway Tree Advisory Forum? And how the proposed Panel are qualified to make their assessments? Arguably, the Panel contravenes National Tree Safety Group (NTSG) guidance, which supports the recommendation of
“As the House of Lords Select Committee on Economics has put it:
‘….the most important thing government can do is ensure thats its own policy decisions are soundly based on available evidence and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions, whether formed by the media or vested interests.’ ” (NSTG, 2011, p.25)
It also contradicts Cllr Fox’s previous statement on urban forest management,
“We are not averse to any kind of solution that are reasonable and practicable…But we can’t have a conversation about every tree. We have to take a city-wide balanced and considered view” (The Star, 26th June 2015, p.13)
The difficulties on one street, with damage associated with trees, are no different to the difficulties on any other street that has the same kind of damage. They are the same. You don’t need different specifications for every street, nor do you need citizen suggestions and opinions to help deal with the matter. They should certainly not be expected or relied upon in place of a strategy and specifications draughted by competent, professional highway engineers and competent arboriculturists (as defined by British Standard 5837:2012).
What can I do to help?
See our Take Action page to see how you can get involved in the campaign. This campaign is growing every day, so come and get involved and help us to keep our beautiful city green!
If you have special qualifications or experience to offer please contact us through the contact bar on the website to offer your services.
Thank you for your support,