Campaigners have won a battle to save a 120-year-old oak tree that Bristol City Council condemned as doomed just four months ago.
Mayor Marvin Rees announced, in a Facebook video on Tuesday, that experts had found a way to maintain the tree in Ashley Down Road, which was causing subsidence to a nearby home.
The 22-metre holm oak was occupied by protesters in February, who submitted a 2,000-name petition after the council issued a notice of felling.
At the time, the local authority said pruning had not stopped significant subsidence damage to a neighbouring property, and that an independent expert recommended the tree’s removal, saying it was “sadly unavoidable”.
Now, though, Save The Ashley Down Oak (Stado) campaigners are celebrating after the city mayor unexpectedly announced it could be saved after all, although the group disputes the tree is the cause of the property’s structural problems, and is demanding an immediate tree preservation order (TPO).
The victory for campaigners comes after unsuccessful attempts to save a row of trees along Lower Ashley Road in St Pauls, known as the M32 Maples, which have now been felled so that building work on a development can start.
Lily Fitzgibbon, the 18-year-old newly elected Green councillor for Bishopston & Ashley Down ward, welcomed the news, but said it was an “afterthought” and that residents and activists were “completely left out of the process”.
In the social media video, filmed at the scene, Mayor Rees said: “We’ve been working with experts behind the scenes and a really good piece of news is that we’ve found a way of protecting that home without felling the tree.
“It will include pollarding and some cutting back of the tree’s canopy, so the tree can be saved and the home can be saved.”
He thanked 19-year-old conservationist Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl, for her “communications on this matter” and former councillor Afzal Shah, who was cabinet member for climate, ecology and sustainable growth before losing his seat at last week’s local elections.
The mayor added: “We also anticipate that this will be a growing challenge for us.
“Climate change will mean that trees will be drawing more moisture from the soil and it will mean more situations in which they come into conflict with local buildings.
“So one of the things we are going to be doing is looking at the way we use our climate reserve to better understand and then, where we can, intervene in such situations so that we can save both trees and homes.
“We have to do all those things at the same time. We have to house people in the face of the housing crisis, we have to plant trees, we have to protect our biodiversity, we have to deliver in a sustainable, decarbonised way.”
Stado campaigner Torin Menzies said: “While we welcome the mayor’s announcement, our work here is not yet done.
“We still need to ensure Bristol City Council acts appropriately, and does not cause unnecessary risk or harm, and that it is transparent about its current plans and its original reasoning behind the attempted felling of the Ashley Down Oak.
“While this is a big victory for both us and tree protection and environmentalist campaigns across the city, the council still needs to improve its urban tree policies – this includes granting more TPOs, standing up against private companies on behalf of local residents, and doing whatever is reasonably possible before felling mature trees.”
Councillor Fitzgibbon tweeted: “Excellent to hear that local residents have been listened to. I’m sure @AshleyDownOak would like more than promises.
“Can we have confirmation that the felling contract is cancelled?
“While I am incredibly relieved to hear that the Ashley Down Oak will be saved, I’m concerned that residents and campaigners were completely left out of the process.
“Additionally, this campaign never should have been necessary. These decisions shouldn’t be happening as an afterthought, and council policies need to be updated to reflect the declaration of ecological emergency.”
Ashley ward Green councillor Jude English said in a comment below the mayor’s video: “Let’s be really clear – without the activist campaign following the felling notice, this tree would already have been felled.
“I think the election of 24 Green councillors has also helped Marvin and Labour understand what an ecological emergency actually means. So well done activists and well done voters!!”