22 October 2020
We are delighted with the announcement that our much loved 150 year old local tree has won the popular vote for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year for England for 2020.(1) This is a wonderful show of support, not only for the Happy Man Tree, but for all the overlooked street trees across the UK that are a vital part of our efforts to reverse the climate and ecological crisis we are in and which mean so much to their communities.
The Happy Man Tree was originally due to be felled in May as part of work on the Woodberry Down Phase 3 development.(2) The Friends of the Happy Man Tree, united by our shared commitment to saving the tree, quickly came together to stop this and have since kept a protective presence at the tree including sleeping on a platform constructed in its branches.
We have been amazed at the support for the tree from the local and wider community. During the pandemic, when so many people have struggled with social isolation, it has offered a safe physically distant space for coming together. Music, art work, poetry and more have been created and shared under its canopy, bringing joy to community members of all ages and backgrounds during this difficult time.
Over 25,000 people signed our petition to the Mayor of Hackney Council asking for the tree to be saved, with the tree’s story even receiving international support. In June, however, individual campaigners were targeted for legal action by Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes. A high court injunction was granted, which will allow them to remove or arrest campaigners when the tree is felled.
In July we launched our own legal challenge to stop the tree being cut down. Hackney Council agreed to reconsider the planning application as a result, but in early September the planning committee voted the scheme through again with little consideration of the mass of objections about the Happy Man Tree and a range of other concerns about this problematic development.(3)
Phase 3 is part of a 30 year regeneration of Woodberry Down estate which is bringing huge change to the whole area. For many local residents, the Happy Man Tree is a much loved and longstanding cultural reference point, that connects the past to the present and is a constant in this profoundly changed landscape which they are unwilling to sacrifice to a falsely polarised choice of homes or trees.
Sylvia, an elderly local resident who has stood by the tree to protect it has said:
“I came to the area when I got married 63 years ago. My sons went to a local school and the tree was always a big source of interest for them. It was always there. If they take the tree away, local history will go out of the window. So much has already changed and it’s such a big part of Woodberry Down. People used to live in such a close knit way and the campaign has brought some of this feeling of local community back again.”
The council have failed to adequately consider alternative designs for the development which could both save the Happy Man Tree and maintain the number of social and affordable housing units built, despite a number of viable options being proposed.(4) They have relied on promises of tree planting which will take many decades to make up for the environmental and cultural loss of the Happy Man Tree and the 43 other mature trees due to be cut down.
The council's decision-making around the Happy Man Tree fails to live up to its 2019 climate emergency declaration and its policy in support of amenity trees. It sought to diminish the amenity and cultural relevance of the Happy Man Tree and chose to use a narrow and elitist definition of cultural value that undermines the importance that the Happy Man Tree holds for the community. With the climate emergency, we cannot continue to fell mature trees to make way for developments without genuine consideration of alternative solutions.
We wholeheartedly thank the Woodland Trust for this award and all the invaluable work they do for trees and woodlands. We are exploring using the £1,000 care award to raise awareness about the value of mature trees in the local area. We are so grateful to all the supporters of the Happy Man Tree, near and far, who voted for a common street tree amongst a shortlist of unique and majestic trees. Your vote is recognition of the power of urban nature to enrich our everyday lives and the importance of protecting and preserving it.
We fully support the Woodland Trust's Street Trees project (5,6) and are thrilled that recognition of the Happy Man Tree will also boost growing awareness of the importance of street trees to the communities in which they stand.
The future of the Happy Man Tree is uncertain.(7) We look to Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes to do the right thing and redesign the development to allow the tree to continue where it has already stood for 150 years. Failing this, we are currently fundraising to explore options for a further legal challenge with the aim of saving the Happy Man Tree for future generations of Woodberry Down residents.
Contact and other details
The Happy Man Tree is on Woodberry Grove, London N4. See map.
Twitter: @happymantree; Facebook: thehappymantree; Instagram: @thehappymantree
Media enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodland Trust Tree of the Year: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/tree-of-the-year/
The Happy Man Tree is a 150 year old grade A London Plane street tree located next to the recently demolished Happy Man pub. The tree has been identified on a map from the 1870s. Construction of Woodberry Down estate started in 1949. Although the tree is outside of perimeter of the scheme, the development's partners, Berkeley Homes and Hackney Council maintain that it must be removed.
See more about the 9 Sept planning meeting here: https://www.thehappymantree.org/post/hurdles-and-frustration-as-council-approves-cutting-down-the-happy-man-tree
A number of alternative designs which would allow the Happy Man Tree to be saved have been put forward, including an option developed by Friends of the Happy Man Tree: https://www.thehappymantree.org/post/phase-3-design-option-to-retain-the-happy-man-tree
Mark Johnston, author of Street Trees in Britain: A History, on the connection people have to urban trees over the centuries and their place in modern urban life. “They’re more than just current environmental assets. They’re part of our heritage and the history of our communities. They’re the most amazing living things in our streets. If we lose them, we lose part of our history.”https://stories.woodlandtrust.org.uk/streetfighters/
Woodland Trust Street Trees project: “Urban trees hold historical and cultural significance. They’re part of our urban heritage. They’re landmarks. Old friends. But they also serve us in other ways. They clean our air. They shade our pavements. They lift spirits, feed wildlife and beautify our surroundings. They even increase the value of our homes. Without trees, our towns and cities would be very different places.” https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/protecting-trees-and-woods/street-trees/
Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes have promised not to cut the Happy Man Tree down until the London Mayor referral process and the section 106 agreement are complete. https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2020/09/10/happy-man-tree-felled-councillors-accept-loss-heavy-heart/