Yew trees have an iconic status within our traditions and culture:their longevity, their use for long bow construction, their toxicity, and their association with religious places. So the news that the developer of the housing site by Bristol College on Ashley Down Road was planning to approach the Council to fell the yew tree by Allen House, was met with dismay by local residents, despite that it already had a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
Eleven residents, including members of the Bishopston Society, wrote to the Council to register their concern: these were referred to in the council officer’s report. In addition, the Bishopston, Cotham and Redland Neighbourhood Partnership and the two Bishopston councillors put in Public Statements in support of maintaining the TPO. A Public Statement can be submitted by anyone. It is a written statement, submitted one working day in advance, commenting on any matter on the agenda of a Council committee meeting, and this includes Neighbourhood Partnership meetings too. The person can also attend the meeting to speak to the statement: this is an effective way of making the members of the committee (ie councillors) sit up and take notice.
Despite all of this, the TPO was removed, and the yew will be felled. Why? Because the developer said it could not adequately protect the tree without removing large chunks which would threaten its long term viability. However it was offering a deal: to plant seven new semi- mature trees on the site, including a yew tree. It was an offer the councillors clearly felt they could not refuse, but does it make up for the loss of an old tree which would normally survive all of us living today?
Would more letters or more Public Statements have helped to preserve this tree? Probably not. Does that mean that putting forward your views on decisions facing the Council a waste of time? Definitely not! In an open democratic society, a range of opinions presents challenges (even if we fundamentally disagree with them) which ensure a debate and review of the way we see the world.
However, when it comes to influencing a decision facing City councillors about an issue you feel passionate about, then it pays to choose the battles which are more likely to be won. Keep the letters flowing, but a Public Statement is an additional powerful tool for not letting Councillors off the hook, especially if you can attend the meeting in person. But as for this particular yew tree, this may have been a battle which was unlikely to have been won.
This is a personal view, and not necessarily shared by the Bishopston Society committee