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Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Anger after Shropshire Council refuses to protect veteran trees

Local campaigners fighting to save veteran trees from the North West Relief Road (NWRR) in Shrewsbury have reacted with anger after Shropshire Highways boss Councillor Dan Morris refused to protect them.

Tina Teearu, an ecologist who lives in Shrewsbury. Photo: Save The Shrewsbury 9
Tina Teearu, an ecologist who lives in Shrewsbury. Photo: Save The Shrewsbury 9

Speaking at a session of Shropshire Council’s cabinet, Councillor Morris refused a request from Green Party Councillor Julian Dean to pledge to protect the nine trees from preemptive felling until after the road’s funding was in place and the thirty-six outstanding planning conditions were finally agreed.

The nine veteran trees – which include the internationally-renowned Darwin Oak, as well as eight other veterans with a combined capital asset value estimated at around £1.5m – are among a thousand trees that will be felled if the road goes ahead.

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The veterans have been dubbed ‘the Shrewsbury 9’ by campaigners who are fighting to prevent them being felled unnecessarily.

With no written guarantee from the Department for Transport regarding the extent of funding and huge questions still remaining over the risk to the drinking water borehole at Shelton, there are concerns the NWRR still faces significant challenges.

Meanwhile, the council’s Tree Team has been inundated with requests from Shropshire residents calling for interim Tree Preservation Orders on the nine trees until it is certain the road is going ahead.

Green Party councillor Julian Dean says:

“Anyone with any sense can see there is huge uncertainty around the North West Relief Road. There are concerns over protecting the water supply; concerns over the full business case, and concerns over whether the current government will still be in place next year to fund the road. Yet Councillor Morris states that “it is going to happen” and that “it’s a bit lame to keep going on about nine trees”. He seems unable to accept his responsibility to guard against the risks that the scheme still faces, and to avoid irreparable environmental damage until and unless all conditions are met.”

Tina Teearu, a campaigner with Save the Shrewsbury 9, says:

“All the cabinet had to do was pledge not to destroy the trees preemptively until the NWRR was certain to go ahead. The worst possible outcome will be if the council fells these amazing trees and then runs out of money to build the road, or loses a legal challenge over it and it doesn’t proceed.

“The council says it will plant 84 new trees to “replace” the veterans. But these nine veterans are considered “irreplaceable” according to Shropshire Council’s own planning guidelines and the government’s National Planning Policy Framework. By that definition they can’t be replaced. The council could pledge to plant a billion new trees and we would still have lost more than we’d gained.

“People need to understand that veteran trees support a whole range of genuinely endangered species like Bechstein’s and Barbastelle bats, hornets, rare beetles, gall wasps, purple emperor butterflies, and more. Genuine veteran trees, especially oaks over 350 years old are becoming increasingly uncommon, along with all the species that need their dead wood/holes/flaking bark as specialised habitat. The council isn’t just axing a few old trees, it is destroying a vital and interconnected ecosystem. They are killing Nature herself.”

During the debate, Councillor Morris revealed that Shropshire Council officers had been asked to spend time investigating whether the Darwin Oak had any connection to Darwin’s childhood. They concluded that Darwin was boarding at Shrewsbury School between the ages of 9 and 16 and that Shelton Rough was then private land.

However, Darwin’s notebooks held in Cambridge University Library show that the naturalist made a detailed geological survey, including maps, of Shelton Rough in the 1830s when he was in his late 20s and the oak would have been around 350 years old.

Shropshire Council officers were also asked to draft a reply to a question from Councillor Nick Bardsley asking if oaks were endangered in Shropshire.

Tina Teearu says:

“It’s astonishing that our near bankrupt council is wasting public money asking officers to do frivolous research about Darwin and whether or not oak trees are endangered. Darwin’s notebooks record him surveying Shelton Rough in detail. He would have known this magnificent tree.

“We should be celebrating this geologically and historically rich area as a link to Shrewsbury’s most famous son. Instead, the council is concreting over it. The story of the Darwin Oak in Shrewsbury has been taken up in newspapers around the world from Germany to Australia and beyond. Over 93,000 people have signed the petition to save it. However, the value of these veteran trees doesn’t lie in their names. It lies in their age. They have stood for centuries. They cannot be replaced, unlike councillors… who can.”

A Darwin Oak petition has been launched online and a crowdfunder for a judicial review into the road has also been launched.

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