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Leave it alone! Mulberry tree activists win reprieve

Town Hall agrees to review chop threat after neighbours’ backlash

26 February, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Children sit in the mulberry tree that Highbury residents are fighting to save from being chopped down

PLANS to axe a much-loved mulberry tree in Highbury are being reviewed by the council amid neighbours’ protests.

Residents on the Park View estate are determined to save the tree which has already survived one chainsaw threat three years ago.

Leaflets from the council had arrived through letterboxes earlier this year saying the tree needs to be chopped down, but Islington says it is now pausing its decision. The felling is part of a development planned at the Park View estate, in Collins Road, where 38 new social homes will be built.

Mulberry tree specialist Dr Peter Coles said: “The story about why it needs to be chopped down keeps changing, so we don’t know what to believe anymore. If it is a root fungus, why hasn’t this come up before?

“If the tree is sick then everyone would understand but if it is healthy I would like to see them find ways to preserve it.”

Dr Coles’ interest and research developed over 10 years leading to the publication of his book, Mulberry, last year. He also co-founded conservation project Morus Londinium, documenting UK mulberry trees in 2016.

According to research there are just 40 mulberry trees left in the capital.

They were brought to the UK for their fruit, and around 1600 James I became a champion for them as he sought to promote the silk industry – silkworms feed on mulberry trees’ leaves.

Dr Coles said: “They have been adopted by Britain as a symbol of Englishness. Lots of schools are named after them and we have the fashion brand, too.

Dr Peter Coles

“They are associated with childhood and abundance – people love their fruit – and they are lovely landscape trees.

“They tend to live a long time and provide a good amount of shade.”

The council said an inspection was carried out by a tree officer and their findings were reviewed by an independent arboriculturist who agreed with their advice.

But resident Zoe Alzamora, who started an online petition calling for the tree to be saved, garnering over 1,300 signatures, said: “To have the decision paused is better than before when we were really running out of time.

“We were told it would be cut down in March or April. That was really scary for us.”

She added: “This tree has been here throughout the life of the estate. It was planted in the 50s as a sign of hope. It is really symbolic of that and I don’t think you can get rid of that kind of heritage.

“The very best part of our estate is a fruiting tree which can be seen from the main street, so it presents the estate in a beautiful light for everybody.

“That was reflected in the original planning document and we have had quite passionate meetings and we had been promised the tree would be kept.

“There has been no change in the regard we have for our tree, so how can they suddenly change their view of that?

“It doesn’t make any sense. It is arbitrary and is based on them wanting to change the design for some reason.”

Islington’s housing chief, Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward, said: “The council is committed to delivering decent, secure, affordable homes for all, and the project on Park View estate will create 38 much-needed council homes for local people.

“We’re determined to ensure that new developments are as environmentally sustainable as possible, and removing trees is always a last resort.

“That is why, when the mulberry tree’s short remaining life and low chances of survival became apparent, the council moved quickly to propose planting a mature mulberry tree in a more suitable location as a replacement.”

He added: “In light of further feedback, we have agreed to temporarily pause this plan and residents will be updated in due course.”

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