Who will speak for the trees?

By clairefowler

ELF has been assisting a local Oxford resident and a community in their battle to save an old oak tree in a garden of a leafy quiet street in Oxford. With a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), at over 200 years old the Oak was planted at the time the houses were built, and known locally as the “Vernon Oak”. We have been involved with a lot of litigation in this matter, including an emergency injunction to stop the tree being felled over the bank holiday weekend.

Local people have been battling to save the tree from being felled by its owners for over 10 years. In 2010 under the threat of imminent felling, the community succeeded in having a TPO placed upon the tree and for a while it was saved. However when the owners applied to fell the tree in 2021 again, and were granted permission by Oxford City Council, the claimant felt compelled to challenge the decision. Having recently been refused permission to judicially review the decision, we are waiting to be heard at a renewal hearing on the 6th October. The owners say the tree is causing subsidence in their property, this is disputed. There has long been a policy by insurance companies to insist on the removal of old trees, established, with biodiversity value, rather than consider remedial works to properties. See here for a Guardian letter about the same.

In the meantime an interim injunction was obtained by the clamant to stop the tree being felled or maimed. On the 23rd September at an oral hearing the interested parties (the owners) had the order modified to allow for the cutting of the tree.  The claimant argued for less severe pruning. This was not accepted. Inconsistencies in the interested parties’ expert’s report concerning the height at which the tree was to be cut, left unanswered, the claimant was saddened by the result. Once the pruning is carried out as proposed there will be little left of the Vernon Oak.

When we wonder about the time spent in defending one tree we do then think back to the Lorax so often quoted, “who will speak for the trees”. What we know about these old street trees, especially an old oak tree is not only the amenity value of the local area, but also the biodiversity that will be lost to the local area. Someone has to speak up for the trees.

The group have a CrowdJustice funding appeal to support the case here.