London plane set for felling wins England’s Tree of the Year award

A mature London plane tree set to be felled for the redevelopment of homes has won England’s Tree of the Year title, the Woodland Trust said.

The “Happy Man Tree” on a street in Hackney was nominated for the contest during lockdown in the spring and, after being shortlisted for a public vote, topped the poll to find this year’s Tree of the Year.

The 150-year old tree is one of 33 to be felled for redevelopment of the Woodberry Down estate, which is set to deliver 584 new homes including social housing, 175 new trees and a new public park the size of 29 tennis courts.

Campaigners have fought to save the 150-year-old plane tree (Tessa Chan)
Campaigners have fought to save the 150-year-old plane tree (Tessa Chan/Woodland Trust/PA)

Local community members have campaigned to save it, urging people to #noticethistree on social media. They have installed artworks and raised petitions, and have criticised efforts to make the matter a binary choice between housing and the tree.

Noemi Menendez, a Woodberry Down resident who is part of the community efforts to save the tree, said: “Today is an important day for the campaigners of the Friends of the Happy Man Tree. We are over the moon to have won this award, and extremely grateful to everybody who voted for our tree.

“Planning with a heart will solve the problem we have faced during this campaign; it is a false argument that we only care for one tree and nothing else. We want the tree and the homes; they are both equally important.

“The Happy Man Tree protest has highlighted the value that mature trees have in a community, their cultural and social importance based on memories, aesthetic features, and the sense of wellbeing they bring.”

Adam Cormack, head of campaigning for the Woodland Trust, said: “In too many places we see well-loved mature trees lost to development rather than designed in to plans from the start.

“When this happens it’s a lose-lose situation. The tree itself is lost and people lose something that made their lives better.”

Chapter House Tree, Margam Park, Port Talbot won Wales' Tree of the Year award (Mark Zyntski)
Chapter House Tree, Margam Park, Port Talbot won Wales’ Tree of the Year award (Mark Zyntski/Woodland Trust/PA)

He said the redevelopment would provide important social housing and Hackney Council had been doing some great work to increase green spaces and tree cover.

But, with the developer saying the tree could have been retained if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process, “we must call this out for being a poor decision”, he said.

“Efforts to create new homes and better places to live must start with protecting existing trees, and their avoidable loss must always be prevented,” he urged.

The Scotland Tree of the Year winner is the Survivor Tree in Carrifran valley (Aiden Maccormick/Woodland Trust/PA)
The Scotland Tree of the Year winner is the Survivor Tree in Carrifran valley (Aiden Maccormick/Woodland Trust/PA)

The winning tree for Wales is the Chapter House Tree, Margam Park, Port Talbot, a historic fern-leaved beech tree which envelops the remains of one of the first Cistercian abbeys in the country and provides shelter to visitors.

In Scotland, the top prize was won by the Survivor Tree, in Carrifran Valley in the Borders, a lone rowan which became an emblem for the restoration group fundraising to buy the land 20 years ago.

The restoration efforts have proved successful, with the once bare valley now full of native trees, and the Woodland Trust said that Borders Forest Trust’s Carrifran Wild Wood showed how to tackle the dual climate and nature crises.

The annual tree of the year competition run by the Woodland Trust and backed by the People’s Postcode Lottery, which gives a £1,000 care award to winning trees, aims to showcase the UK’s favourite trees to show their value and need for protection.

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