Hackney's Happy Man Tree chopped down in blow to campaigners
- Credit: Clara Murray
Hackney’s Happy Man Tree was chopped down this morning, signalling the end of campaigners’ long-standing fight to save it.
A tree near The Happy Man pub on Woodberry Grove, which is believed to be 150 years old, has been slated for removal for several years as part of the Woodberry Down Estate regeneration project.
This will see new homes, community facilities and public spaces built on the site.
However, the plans hit headlines this summer when protestors occupied the tree in a bid to stop the felling, a petition to save the London plane gained 27,000 signatures and it was voted Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year.
This morning, a small crowd of campaigners and curious residents gathered to watch the tree being sliced up piece by piece over three hours.
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At least 16 police officers and over 25 private security guards prevented onlookers from approaching.
Workers with chainsaws started to climb the tree at about 8am and the trunk was felled at 12.15pm as campaigners shouted “shame on you” and screamed.
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One man shouted a question - “is the money worth it?” - as he pleaded with police. Later, he climbed a smaller tree nearby, where he continued to remonstrate with officers.
Campaigner Emma Smith spent several months guarding the tree, even sleeping in its branches. She told the Gazette that watching it fall felt “like they’re cutting down a bit of me”.
Kay Trainor, who started the petition last year with her husband, said it was “frightening” and a “very brutal moment” as sawdust filled the air.
Several other trees at the site have been felled over the past month.
Hackney Council approved plans to fell the tree twice, in June and September last year.
Philip Glanville, mayor of Hackney, said today's felling was a “last resort” which the council worked with residents and the developer to avoid.
“Sadly in this case, to everyone’s disappointment, the removal of this much-loved tree was necessary to ensure that we can continue with our plans to deliver 584 much-needed homes.”
Pete Buckingham of the Friends of the Happy Man Tree campaign told the Gazette: “There's basically no reason for the street trees to be taken down, apart from greed.
"Berkeley Homes wanted more money, more profit by putting in too many houses into the space and the tree had to go because of that."
He continued: “I’m not finished. I’m going to make sure that the memory of what is being done here is not going to go when these fences go, when the security men and police who turned up today go.”
Bhavini Patel of Extinction Rebellion Hackney, who was at the scene, called the amount of security present a “show of force”.
“The level of cognitive dissonance that's happening right now to officials that have the power to stop such destruction… It shows that money speaks louder than any community needs.
“Today, ironically, being the first day of the [third] lockdown, shows that they are choosing not to understand the link between the environment and the virus, and the very survival of the human species.”
A bystander at Woodberry Down was less emotional. He said he had watched the goings-on at the tree all year, but “it is what it is”.
Phil Cooke, chair of the Woodberry Down Community Organisation, which represents residents in the area’s regeneration, said the urgent need for new homes in the area meant the development could not be delayed.
“Looking forward, we want to keep as many of the existing trees on the estate as possible, and make sure many more new trees are planted so that the green environment and biodiversity of the estate is the best that we can make it.”
A Berkeley Homes spokesperson added: “We remain committed to ensuring that the Phase Three benefits are delivered for the local community as quickly as possible, including 584 new homes, a brand new park, the planting of 175 new trees and an energy centre to generate heat to supply the whole of the estate.”
The Met Police said a woman was arrested at the site today on suspicion of breach of the peace and remains in custody.