Woodland Trust refutes Sheffield Council's claim charity is 'working with' authority on tree-felling

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The UK’s largest woodland conservation charity has refuted Sheffield Council’s claim that it is working with the authority on its highly-controversial tree-felling strategy.

The Woodland Trust has said while it met with council leaders over the issue in April, none of its suggestions have been taken up by the authority and a further attempt to make contact has met with “no response”.

It comes after a letter by Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment, defended ongoing work to remove 6,000 trees from Sheffield’s streets by saying: “We are working with groups such as The Woodland Trust to ensure everything possible is being done to protect wildlife and Sheffield’s rich biodiversity.”

Coun Lodge was responding to an intervention by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who called this week for the Labour-led council to halt its felling programme.

But Beccy Speight, chief executive of The Woodland Trust, said Coun Lodge’s description was not an accurate representation of the situation.

In an open letter, she said: “I would like to make it absolutely clear that Sheffield City Council is not ‘working with’ The Woodland Trust as claimed in Councillor Bryan Lodge’s letter.

“We have attempted to influence the city council’s thinking on the Streets Ahead programme, as like all concerned residents we have serious misgivings about the reasoning behind the felling of so many thousands of healthy mature trees.

“However, despite our best efforts we have been unable to persuade the council.

“At a face-to-face meeting in April we made a number of suggestions to find a way forward, including funding an independent assessment of a selection of remaining trees to be felled. These were acknowledged but not taken up.

“I wrote a further letter to [council leader] Julie Dore on June 26 which has as yet been met with no response.

“The idea that any healthy tree would be felled if other options are available would be unthinkable and certainly not an example of doing ‘everything possible is being done to protect wildlife and biodiversity’.

“At the trust, we are passionate about trees and are actively working in cities like Sheffield providing free trees for communities to plant, advising local authorities on management and supporting people who love trees too. That we might offer this support in Sheffield should not be interpreted/construed as ‘working with’ Sheffield City Council.

“We are still willing to work collaboratively to find a solution to the issues in Sheffield but like others we are finding it increasingly difficult to do so.”

But Sheffield Council tonight continued to insist it was still working with The Woodland Trust.

Paul Billington, Director of Culture and Environment at Sheffield City Council, said: “Sheffield City Council continues to work with the Woodland Trust on our Trees and Woodland Strategy. If the Woodland Trust has decided to no longer work with us, then we would have expected them to tell us via the usual channels rather than issuing a statement on social media. We have already contacted the Trust to ask them to clarify their position.”

Trees are being removed from city streets as part of a 25-year £2bn highway maintenance programme based on a PFI contract signed with contractor Amey in 2012.

While the council insist only trees that are dead, dying, diseased or dangerous are being removed and then replaced, protesters argue that many do not need to be chopped down and the work is being carried out as a cost-cutting exercise.