Protest blocks tree surgeons in Highgate nature reserve
PUBLISHED: 18:13 17 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:20 22 July 2020
Protesters have so far stopped four trees from being felled in a Highgate nature reserve.
Home insurer Axa has asked Haringey Council to cut down four oak trees in Queen’s Wood, a nature reserve near Highgate Wood, because they are damaging a neighbouring property.
It says legal costs of refusing the request could rack up to £270,000, and has promised to replace the lost specimens this autumn.
However, nearly 5,000 people have now signed a petition asking for the trees to be saved and a group of protesters have been camping in the area to intercept tree surgeons since July 15.
The council has been given a two-week extension for the tree’s removal, until July 31.
READ MORE: Petition to protect trees in Highgate nature reserve attracts 1,700 signatures
“The protest has been brilliant, it’s so heartening to see so many people coming out to do everything they can to save the trees,” said petition organiser Glenys Law, chair of Crouch End Open Space.
She said protecting the trees is their “first and foremost priority” and urged everyone to remain “vigilant”.
Chair of the Friends of Queen’s Wood, John Dorken, said the group supports what the protesters are trying to achieve.
He said: “We have been against it (felling the trees) all along and we tried to argue that - althougth the council is in a difficult position and we have to be sensitive of that too.”
Cllr Kirsten Hearn, Haringey’s cabinet member for climate change and sustainability, said she did not want the trees to be cut down.
She said: “In this case, the council are left with two choices: to pay the insurance costs for further underpinning, at a cost we are told of at least £270,000, or cut down the four trees.
“The council has a huge hole in its budget due to actions it has taken to protect residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. This follows 10 years of austerity during which council budgets have been slashed.
“We simply cannot afford to pay out £270,000 to the homeowner’s insurance company.”
Haringey pointed out it protected a fifth tree, which formed part of the initial claim.
Cllr Bob Hare of Highgate ward, which includes Queen’s Wood, “paid tribute” to the protesters, who he described as “absolutely amazing”.
However, he said these are the “right trees in the wrong place”, so close to the house, and asked if the land where they grow could be transformed into a woodland edge, where a natural habitat is allowed to thrive.
An Axa spokesperson said the company takes its responsibilities to the environment seriously, has been a partner of the Woodland Trust for six years and supported a number of scientific eco-projects through the Axa Research Fund.
They said: “On this occasion, we explored all other options with our customer and the local council including constructing a root barrier, but unfortunately this was not deemed possible due to a number of constraints with the building itself.
“Therefore we were left with no other option but to consider the removal of the trees affecting our customer’s home. This is not a decision we took lightly and we understand that this is upsetting for local people, but we also hope that it will bring some peace of mind to our policyholder whose home is currently at risk.”
They said in “complex claims”, Axa takes steps to ensure any action is the least damaging to the environment within “reasonable cost constraints”.
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