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Protesters take to the trees in Manchester to protect the natural habitats of Alexandra Park from development destruction.

The Combe Haven lot aren't the only ones digger diving. A small but determined protest camp has pitched up in a more urban setting: Manchester's Alexandra Park. For the last two weeks the 20-30 strong group have been scrambling up trees, getting in the way of fence building and establishing aerial walkways to try and stop the unnecessary felling of more than 400 trees in one of the city's only big green spaces.

While the official council line is that only (!) around 260 trees are to be felled, eagle-eyed campaigners with the Save Alexandra Park Trees group have scrutinised the plans and conducted their own field research, with the help of an ecologist, and found the figure to be much higher – over 400. Despite the facts, local councillor Eamonn O'Rourke has been spouting the dodgy numbers all over the local press to try and paint the protest as unreasonable. As campaigner Ian Brewer says, “He's deluded, either he's misinformed or he's trying to mislead the public”.

The £4.5 million regeneration/destruction project, funded mainly by the council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been in the pipeline for over a decade. About three weeks ago, it started with a vengeance. The felling of the first twelve trees came as a surprise but protesters rocked up the next day as fifteen silver birch were about to feel the chainsaw. It was a taste of things to come: Ian told SchNEWS that he came to have a look and locked his bike up, only to have G4S security guards threaten him to move the bike before they took an angle grinder to it. Nice.

Having been helpfully told by a local bobby that if they got in the way of the fence it couldn't go up because it'd amount to 'false imprisonment', the activists took the space and saved the trees, but only for a few more hours – the felling took place under the cover of darkness that night.

Since then a camp has been set up and direct action has begun: “The only way to stop the trees being felled is to occupy them.” Tree climbers have been arrested, while others have been nicked on the floor for 'obstruction' – although, in Ian's case, de-arrested minutes later. He explained he logistical problem of the protest, which is to avoid too many people getting nicked and bailed to stay out of the park. It seems the 'stop them before they get established' tactic of the cops, who are scared of popular and lively campaigns de-railing development plans, is being applied here as it has in Combe Haven.

In Alexandra Park, the authorities are relying claims of dubious legality to get their way: “We've been warned that if we get in the way of the chainsaw crew we'll be done for aggravated trespass.” This may not even be legal – Alexandra Park is, and always has been, public property. However when a third of the park was being fenced off ready for carnage from the contractors Mansell, protesters were warned that these areas were now Mansell's 'property'.

So what's the big deal about the trees?

It's not just a case of protecting old trees, not that that ain't a worthy cause. And the campaigners are adamant that they're not asking for the park project to be abandoned all together. The problem is that the plans are so ill-thought through that it's wreaking devastation – as in, total obliteration, on over 3 acres of natural habitat which is home to protected and priority species such as bats, hedgehogs, song thrush and house sparrows (already three hedgehogs have been killed, which could be a crime under the Protection of Wild Mammals Act 1996).

Planners are relying on wildlife surveys over two years old which are outdated, and ignoring requirements to have an ecologist on site at all times during works. The plans demonstrate a bizarre lack of foresight: for example, a large number of trees are already suffering from deadly fungal infections.

“While we're felling 400 trees, there might be another 400 due to die anyway over the next few years. That's 50 per cent of the trees in the park. While we're got the money we should be looking at the state of the trees in the park, replanting, and thinking about the park's long-term future,” says Ian. In other examples of backward thinking, the council are destroying whole areas of natural land in order to artificially create 'nature areas' in other parts of the park.

And it's not just those scaling the trees that oppose the proposals. Over 3,600 people, the vast majority local Mancunians, have signed a petition to save the Park's trees. Before the recent activity prompted more direct methods to be adopted, objections to the plans have been filed for the last two years.

So if you're in Manchester, get yourself down there to show support for the protesters.




The link to the petition against the chopping of the trees is here: http://savealexandraparkstrees.wordpress.com/petition/

There are 3 comments on this story...
Added By: Reader - 10th February 2013 @ 3:06 PM
Head of Manchester City Council is Richard Leese (Order of British Empire..tskk!)Who once was arrested on suspicion of the common assault of his then 16 year old step-daughter.But released after accepting a police caution.
So if all else fails Lesse give those protestors a slap!
Added By: Someone who lives in the area - 16th February 2013 @ 11:40 AM
This article is uninformed. This is not some one sided tale of environmental destruction. The Friends of Alexandra Park have campaigned for 10 years for funding for the much needed regeneration of the park. Where were the protestors during this long slog, when they could have contributed to the plans for the the park's redevelopment?

Its very easy to just berate those authorities who are implementing these plans but in reality they are actually providing a much needed boost to an area ( Whalley Range/ Moss Side) which will really benefit from the improved environment and facilities. As many, if not more people support the redevelopment of the park as the foremost priority as those who signed the petition against felling the trees.

It may be that some aspects of the plan are imperfect or need correcting but overall those regenerating the park are making some brave and welcome decisions that will improve the lives of local residents, respect wildlife and make the park a much more pleasant place to be.

Added By: a whalley ranger. - 28th February 2013 @ 6:18 PM
Here, here from someone who also lives in the area. Totally echo your comments and sentiments. The only truth in this article is the name of the park !
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