Residents and green activists are maintaining a 24-hour vigil in an attempt to protect a line of Norway maple trees in Bristol after developers began chopping them down.
People in the St Paul’s area of the city woke early on New Year’s Eve to the sound of workers with chainsaws starting to fell the trees as part of a new housing development.
One tree had been cut down by the time residents arrived at the Lower Ashley Road but two women chained themselves to a pair of the remaining trees, halting the work.
Since New Year’s Eve, members of the Save the M32 Maples – so-called because the trees are close to the motorway – have kept watch over the trees and called on Bristol city council to prevent them being destroyed.
The developers stopped the work while negotiations with residents and the city council took place but the “truce” ends on Wednesday and locals fear the chainsaws will return. Activists have promised to take direct action again to make sure that the workers cannot safely cut down the trees.
Amirah Cole, a resident, said: “These trees play a role in protecting people from pollution. They are for everyone and we need to do more to protect them. We’re in a climate crisis. We have to nurture trees.”
Protesters huddled together lit a brazier for warmth on Tuesday. Ribbons and baubles were draped in the trees and drivers beeped their horns as they passed to show their support.
Another local, Sian Whelan, said: “The trees are very important part of the area. They are more than 50 years old. They have been growing since the time the motorway was built. This street is a motorway slip-road in effect. When the trees are in full bloom they’re lovely.”
Outline planning permission was granted in 2016 for the site, formerly owned by the council, to be turned into offices and accommodation. A revised plan for affordable housing is expected to be put into the council soon.
The original permission allowed the removal of the trees if developers paid for replacement trees within one mile of the site. But planning officers had asked the landowner to refrain from removing the trees until a decision on the new planning application received for the site had been considered.
At a full council meeting on Tuesday, the Save the M32 Maples group claimed it had discovered the council still owned the strip of land on which the trees are sited – and argued this meant it should be doing more to save them. The council said it was investigating this claim.
Another resident, Rachel Lamp, pointed out that Bristol was the first UK council to declare a climate emergency and had pledged to double the size of the tree canopy in the city. She said: “They are missing a fantastic opportunity to look like a forward-thinking green council by not stopping these trees from being cut down.”
There are only three maples left – but neighbours see them as a valuable antidote to the motorway’s fumes. “They represent so much more than three maple trees,” said Lamp. “I feel like no one’s being listened to here apart from the landowners and developers. It’s incredibly upsetting.”
Vassili Papastavrou, the secretary of the Bristol Tree Forum, said it was not an isolated occurrence: “Important urban trees are being removed all over Bristol. We are in a climate emergency so the obvious presumption should be to build around existing trees on development sites.”
A Bristol city council spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to learn the owner has not been following the advice given by officers to delay work on these trees. The mayor [Marvin Rees] has met with the developer and residents to try to find a solution and will be meeting them again shortly to continue this discussion.”