On 28 February, London barrister Paul Powlesland climbed a tree in Wellingborough in an attempt to stop the illegal felling of protected trees. This story was reported by the BBC on 20 February 2023, and picked up by Amnesty International, followed by more reports from the BBC and The North Hants Telegraph.
Here is the story, as he live tweeted it from 30 feet up in the air.
So, I find myself 30 feet in the air up a tree in Wellingborough – surrounded by police, security and tree surgeons – trying to prevent an illegal tree felling. How did I end up here? Here’s an outrageous story of nature destruction and collusion between authorities and private developer.
‘Wellingborough Walks’ is an impressive Avenue of Lime Trees that is over 100 years old and is the pride of the town. A few weeks ago, local councillors were informed that 60 of the trees were to be felled, ostensibly to make a new roundabout and move a gas main.
They swung into action, forming a local group to question and challenge the decision. They found that the trees have a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on them which makes it a criminal offence to damage or destroy them. But despite protests the developer Vistry started destroying the trees.
Local people were arrested for trying to stop the felling and the local tree campaigners asked the council why they wouldn’t enforce the TPO and put a stop notice on the felling. They were told that an exemption applied under the TPO regs.
At this point, I was instructed by the protesters to produce a pro bono advice on the position. Looking at all of the available documents, my clear conclusion was that the exemptions to the TPO regs didn’t apply and therefore felling the trees with TPOs would be illegal.
I’m sharing the advice with the permission of the protesters who instructed me:
- Vistry to stop work pending clarification of the legal position
- North Northants Council to issue a temporary stop work notice pending clarification from Vistry of the legal position
- the police to report a potential criminal offence in relation to the destruction of trees with a TPO
This was also shared with the council and the police. It was hoped that it would convince them to act to prevent the felling or at least to provide clarity as to why the advice was not correct.
But no! So I travelled to Wellingborough to talk to the police on the ground. I explained my advice to them and they did not contradict it. However, not only were the police unwilling to stop the illegal felling, they were threatening to arrest the protesters for aggravated trespass.
This does not make sense as any trespass also has to be obstructing ‘lawful’ activity to be aggravated. The activity the protesters were obstructing appeared to be unlawful. However, the police had conferred with the tree surgeons and contractors and were clearly on their side.
The police came over and read their prepared script on aggravated trespass. I tried to reason with them that such an arrest could not be made given the unlawful nature of the tree felling, which they completely ignored and began physically removing people from the area.
At this point I had a choice: to allow these beautiful trees to be illegally and unnecessarily felled, or to climb one of them to prevent the illegality. Before I knew it, I was scrambling up the tree and seeing the perplexed expression of the police far below me.
It’s absolutely freezing today, but I intend to remain up here to prevent the illegal felling of these trees. So far the work has stopped, which is good. If you wish to support, please send emails or call North Northants Council and ask them to use powers to issue a stop notice.
The police have now surrounded my tree with fencing (kindly provided by the developer they are colluding with today) and are covering it in police ‘crime scene’ tape so the tree is a crime scene. It would be funny if it wasn’t such an abuse of power and waste of resources.
I’m still in the tree and despite saying I would come down if the police moved away, they’ve now brought in12 officers to surround the crime scene pen they’ve made and a fire engine. Such a ludicrous waste of resources to unlawfully arrest someone.
The felling crews went home (so the trees are safe for today); the head of the council offered a meeting tomorrow; and I was starting to get hypothermia, so I’ve now left the tree.
My bail conditions from Northants Police now forbid me from climbing any tree in Northamptonshire, so I was so pleased this morning to wake up to the news that another tree protector has occupied the trees in Wellingborough. Deep gratitude and respect to this person.
Good news that since climbing the Wellingborough Time Tree, North Northants Council seem to be taking their responsibilities seriously and no further trees have been felled. Hoping this continues and the council demand the developer makes public the docs below, which will determine if felling is lawful.
Thanks for all your good wishes & the support and publicity you’ve given the campaign to save the trees.