Growing concerns lead to rethink over trees for Sheffield's war dead

Lisa Firth, Sheffield Council's head of parks and countryside. Picture: Chris Etchells
Lisa Firth, Sheffield Council's head of parks and countryside. Picture: Chris Etchells

More Sheffield parks are to become the home of war memorial trees as a scheme to plant 300 new monuments has undergone a big rethink.

Living tributes to the city's war dead are to be planted by the council at 36 sites - including all of Sheffield's major city and district parks - with the first phase of 100 trees on the way later this year, coinciding with Armistice Day and the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Longley Park.

Longley Park.

The project, which represents the largest single planting of heavy standard trees the council has ever undertaken, includes the creation of long, leafy avenues at five parks - Firth Park, Longley, Greenhill, Herdings and the Cholera Monument grounds. A single English oak will be positioned at 31 locations, stretching from Endcliffe Park to Tinsley Green Recreation Ground.

Special dedication ceremonies are happening and it is hoped the full complement of 300 trees will be in place by 2020. The avenues are in phase one and will be planted this year.

The plan replaces proposals that emerged in February. At that time, 15 parks were earmarked for memorials, with one spot - Parson Cross Park - intended as the site of as many as 50 trees.

But Lisa Firth, Sheffield Council's head of parks and countryside, said officers went back to the drawing board based on feedback from friends groups, the Sheffield Green Spaces Forum, residents and others.

Trees on Western Road were planted in April 1918 to honour soldiers from Westways School, in Crookes, who died in World War One.

Trees on Western Road were planted in April 1918 to honour soldiers from Westways School, in Crookes, who died in World War One.

"Most of the feedback was telling us that yes, they wanted trees planting, but it was the volume that was an issue," she said.

The measure follows a controversial decision in December by the council to fell and replace 41 memorial trees as part of its Streets Ahead roadworks programme with contractor Amey. Twenty-three of those to be felled were on Western Road, Crookes, and remembered local school pupils who lost their lives from 1914 to 1918. Cabinet members, who were told roots were damaging pavements, voted in favour of replacement after it was claimed keeping them would have costed £500,000.

Ms Firth said there was 'no disputing' the planting scheme came in response to the earlier outcry. "That's not up for debate. Those trees were planted 100 years ago in a time when streets looked very different, there weren't vehicles and so on. The thought was almost 'If only they'd been planted in parks'. Hopefully this commitment means the council, in another 100 years, won't be having the same conversations about removing them from parks because they'll be able to thrive in that environment. They're not to replace anything on the street, they're totally separate. The commitment is 300 new trees."

She said a phased approach was chosen 'after much deliberation'. "Rather than trying to do 300 all at once, which is a lot of tree planting. It's 2018, the centenary year of the end of the First World War, let's plant 100 in this first phase and then we can have more time and more consultation."

Bolehill Park, Crookes.

Bolehill Park, Crookes.

Officers were also guided by the results of detailed site surveys. "We had to look at our parks and see where we could put trees, because I know it might sound a little bit strange but you can't fit any more in some places."

Bringing an individual oak to more sites will widen the 'geographic spread', she added. "There's equality, everybody in the city can have the opportunity to visit a war memorial."

The oaks will be substantial trees, about 10 years old and more sizeable than those normally selected for planting. "It's going to be bigger than the ones that are planted on the street, for instance."

Avenues at Firth, Longley, Greenhill and Herdings will consist of lime trees, in keeping with the specimens already there, while the Cholera Monument avenue will be made up of oaks, matching several already in place and extending along a path that winds uphill from Shrewsbury Road.

Millhouses Park, Millhouses

Millhouses Park, Millhouses

In addition, each of the 36 sites will be designated as a Centenary Field in Trust, maintaining it as recreational space in perpetuity. "They will be somewhere everyone, no matter where they live in the city, can go and hopefully remember loved ones, families, and members of the armed forces who have lost their lives for peace," said Ms Firth.

She accepted some people would still want to see living memorials on streets, rather than confined to parks. "My comment to them would be, this is a new war memorial. It's not to replace the existing one. It's something the city hasn't done for many years. It's a difficult issue. Where the war memorial street trees can be retained in situ they are being, and they're being replaced where they have to be."

The planting season is a 'relatively small window' from the end of October until March, so phase two will not be reached until 2019.

"So probably by 2020 we hope to have got the 300 in, established. I think it's really lovely - a fitting memorial."

The full list of Sheffield parks to get war memorial trees

City parks - one English oak

Concord Park
Endcliffe Park/Porter Valley Parks
Ecclesall Woods
Graves Park & Animal Farm
Hillsborough Park & Walled Garden
Millhouses Park
Norfolk Heritage Park
Rivelin Valley Park
Weston Park

District parks - one English oak

Bingham Park (Porter Valley Parks)
Bolehill Recreation Ground
Chapeltown Park
Crookes Valley Park
Ecclesfield Park
Grenoside Recreation Ground
High Hazels Park
Manor Fields Park
Meersbrook Park
Mount Pleasant Park
Oxley Park
Parkwood Springs
Parson Cross Park
Richmond Park
Stannington Park
Tinsley Green Recreation Ground
Whirlow Brook Park

Avenues - all lime trees, with one exception

Firth Park
Longley Park
Greenhill Park
Herdings Park
Cholera Monument (oak trees)

Local sites - one English oak

Middlewood
Hillside - Mosborough
Hollinsend
Charnock
Mortomley, High Green