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"When you have community, you have hope." How Notts Campaigners Saved Mature Trees in Newark-On-Trent

8 December 21 words: Emma Oldham
photos: Nickoli Parker

When the council planned to cut down four mature trees in Newark-on-Trent, the local community stepped up to save them. Emma Oldham, one of the movement’s campaigners, tells us all about it…

At a time when we’re left feeling betrayed by our leaders’ lack of commitment from COP26 negotiations, it is becoming harder than ever to shrug off eco-anxiety. It’s easy to throw in the towel. But don’t. 

While global leaders are failing us, community groups are saving us. And they are everywhere. Right across the UK, people are uniting to protect precious pockets of green space and habitats which otherwise would be lost to development and greed. 

I’ve been on the frontline of a very recent community campaign myself. The same week leaders pledged to end deforestation, my district councillors erected metal fencing to imprison and slaughter four mature trees in Newark-on-Trent to make way for a tarmac car park. 

The community value of these trees was neglected, and its wildlife was deemed worthless. Thousands of residents and 6,000 petition signatures were ignored. Strong evidence of high bat activity was ignored. Mass peaceful protests and candle vigils were ignored. Democracy had failed us. But, when the iron wall went up around our green space, the community rose further. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Monitors and volunteers helped to protect the site at all hours around the clock for five consecutive weeks after the chop was voted. It unleashed a tidal wave of support, passion, and unity. The cameras started turning up, we made it on national TV and our #StoptheChop campaign was reaching new audiences. 

Despite all this pressure, the authorities didn’t buckle and on Remembrance Day, Newark and Sherwood District Council took over our green oasis with a formidable force of workmen and police, erecting fencing all around us. 

Trees are the lungs of our planet, and by stopping the chop their legacy continues to supply fresh oxygen, capture carbon, and alleviate flooding

Warnings of trespass and orders to leave the site, coupled with the threat of arrest, forced peaceful protestors to leave. But our ‘fab5’ was born. Five incredible individuals – including 80-year old Jo – stuck it out to the very end, with four of them sleeping under the trees on a chilly November night. 

On the outside of the wall, the community flocked together, lighting candles, performing songs and honking horns in support of the protestors. Even at midnight a beautiful mix of residents, strangers and police supported the protestors by passing hot water bottles, blankets, battery packs and food over the barricades. The message was loud and clear - the community would go down fighting for their leafy residents. 

But on Friday afternoon, after thirty hours of protestors in confinement, NSDC deputy leader Keith Girling arrived onsite to announce that work must be halted immediately. This was due to a new deal offered to the council by landowner Dan Derry, who bought the green space from the council in 2017 and then leased it back to them. We had won. 

Through unity, perseverance, teamwork and care we’d saved a vital green space that not only acts as a stepping stone for foraging bats, foxes and hedgehogs but also helps with our mental health and wellbeing. The trees are the lungs of our planet, and by stopping the chop their legacy continues to supply fresh oxygen, capture carbon, and alleviate flooding. Most importantly, our children will be able to grow old with them.

We hope this small but vital victory brings encouragement to all the other community groups currently fighting to protect their green spaces and wildlife. When you have community, you have hope.

Protect Newark's Green Spaces Facebook page

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