Woodland Trust backs Ripon campaign to save veteran beech tree
Last updated Nov 25, 2023
Today's protest in Minster Gardens.

Campaigners fighting to save a veteran beech and 10 other mature trees from being felled on a public open green space in Ripon have received support from the Woodland Trust — the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity.

Between 12 noon and 1pm today, more than 60 men, women and children gathered with placards on Minster Gardens for a peaceful protest to raise awareness of the threat facing the trees.

They will be felled if North Yorkshire Council approves Ripon Cathedral’s application to build a two-storey annex on the gardens.

The proposed £6m development, on land which passed into North Yorkshire Council’s ownership in April when Harrogate Borough Council was abolished, would include a song school, community space, toilets, a refectory and shop, which the cathedral says will attract more than 30,000 extra visitors a year to the city.

The veteran beech tree

The veteran beech tree that is under threat of being felled, with ten other trees

To coincide with today’s protest, the Woodland Trust, which has the veteran beech listed on its inventory of ancient trees, reiterated its strong opposition to the removal of the trees.

Jack Taylor, the trust’s lead campaigner for woods under threat, said in the statement:

“The proposed loss of trees within Ripon Cathedral’s Minster Gardens is of grave concern to the Woodland Trust. An irreplaceable veteran beech tree and a number of mature and notable trees would be lost to development on this site.

“Such trees play a vital role in the urban environment, enhancing aesthetic appeal, acting as carbon sinks, providing shade, improving air quality, and supporting local biodiversity. Their loss not only alters the landscape but also has far-reaching environmental and social implications.”

He added:

“The loss of veteran, notable and mature trees is entirely unacceptable and contrary to national planning policies designed to protect these important habitats. We ask that the developers work with North Yorkshire County Council and the local community to safeguard these magnificent urban trees and ensure that Ripon’s Minster Gardens remain vibrant, resilient, and ecologically rich.”

The trust lodged a formal objection to the felling of the tree with North Yorkshire Council this year, as did the planning authority’s own ecologist Dan McAndrew and arboriculturist Alan Gilleard.

What protestors said

Valerie Sheldon, who is one of the 1,800 people who have signed a petition objecting to the felling of the trees, said:

“In the 31 years that I have lived in Ripon I have enjoyed visiting this peaceful green lung. There is no other place like it in the city centre.

“The trees have been here for a very long time and must be protected.”

Simone Hurst added:

“We can’t just stand by and allow the destruction of mature trees that are important to the environment and provide a habitat for hundreds of different wildlife species.”

Steve Ellis said:

“The beech is 200 years old and according to the experts, still has plenty of life in it, Why would anybody want to cut it and other trees down to replace them with an environmentally unfriendly concrete structure.?”

The Stray Ferret approached Ripon Cathedral for comment on today’s protest, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

However, a statement from the Dean and Chapter was released in May, after a smaller protest was held on Minster Gardens. It said:

“The planning application is going through its due process, as such we don’t respond to individual comments or objections during this process.

“What I can say is that we have investigated all available options within the cathedral estate, and none of the sites were suitable for the new building. This was the opinion of a range of external experts who specialise in heritage buildings and conservation as well as architects and project management experts. The needs of all internal and external users of the proposed new building cannot be met by using any other existing chapter property and all cathedral property is currently being used to its maximum capacity.

“As we’ve previously said, the building will be an asset to the people of the city, providing much needed facilities, including a safe space for our choristers to rehearse that is fully accessible, along with public toilet facilities (including a new Changing Places toilet, suitable for those who struggle to use standard accessible toilets).

“While we understand that some people may see the loss of eleven trees as too heavy a price to pay, the development will tidy up an unloved part of the city, increase the amount of public open space and enhance the existing much-valued memorial garden. The plans we’ve submitted also include the planting of 14 new trees around the cathedral, along with a further 300 trees on land made available by a supporter of the project and will see an overall increase in biodiversity across the area.”

The planning application  which was submitted to Harrogate Borough Council last December, is due to be considered by the Skipton and Ripon area constituency planning committee of North Yorkshire Council at a date and venue yet to be confirmed.

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