Community standing by the Ashley Down Oak with banner.

Tree Campaigners Fight for Council Transparency

Seven months after saving the Ashley Down Oak from felling, campaigners are still waiting for transparency and concrete commitments from Bristol City Council. 

Earlier this year, a much-loved 120-year-old oak tree on Ashley Down Road was scheduled to be felled by Bristol City Council when a nearby resident complained that the tree’s roots were causing subsidence of his home. 

Campaigners from Save The Ashley Down Oak (STADO) appeared victorious when in May – shortly after the mayoral and council elections – Mayor Marvin Rees publicly announced that the oak would not be felled. 

But STADO now say that Rees’ promise has not led to action to safeguard the tree for the future, and that the original decision to fell the tree still lies shrouded in mystery with little transparency from the Council. 

Ashley Down resident and STADO member, Tessa Holmes, said: ‘The Council has been asked lots of times to show how this tree is to blame for subsidence in a nearby house – so far they haven’t been able to do this, nor have the insurers

‘We are worried that even if the tree isn’t cut down, heavy-duty pruning and pollarding could seriously damage or even kill it.’

STADO have now written to Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Climate, Ecology, Waste, and Energy asking for transparency and clarity on what steps are being taken by the Council to protect not only the Ashley Down Oak but all mature trees in Bristol. 

The letter calls on Cllr Beech to release information on the Council’s decision to fell, as well as survey information it holds on the subsidence of the nearby house, and for the Council to rejoin the Joint Mitigation Protocol, a process designed to enable local authorities to make clear and fair decisions in cases of subsidence. 

A picture of the oak tree shows it towering
The Ashley Down Oak is thought to be 120 years old and is very popular with the local community. Image: STADO

The letter is the latest move by STADO in their arduous struggle for transparency from the Council regarding the decision to fell the oak. 

In April, STADO wrote to Afzal Shah, Beech’s predecessor in her current cabinet role, asking for the Council’s knowledge regarding the subsidence claims to be shared. Despite meeting with campaigners, Shah was not able to shine further light on the situation. 

Multiple Freedom of Information Requests to the Council regarding the matter have been denied, including from Bristol Tree Forum and The Bristol Cable. 

After Rees announced in May that the tree would be saved, Councillor Lily Fitzgibbon tweeted: ‘While I am incredibly relieved to hear that the Ashley Down Oak will be saved, I’m concerned that residents and campaigners were completely left out of the process.’

In his announcement, made via a video on Facebook, Rees notably failed to mention the efforts of STADO or of the local community who rallied to save the oak.

In November, Bristol City Council was placed on the “A List” by international disclosure charity CDP, who every year rank participating cities by their action on tackling the climate crisis. The A List is reserved for those cities which CDP considers to be ‘bold leaders in environmental transparency and action.’

To Bristolians committed to saving the Ashley Down Oak, left to languish in uncertainty by an opaque and uncommunicative council, such accolades must surely seem like a bad joke.

Bunting strung from the tree says "Save Our Tree"
In February this year, locals rallied to save the oak. Image: STADO.

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