Why the beech tree victory should encourage us

In case you missed the social media frenzy, last week was mostly given over to a battle for (or against, depending on your position) three majestic beech trees next to a public footpath at Guildford Golf Club. We were alerted to the plan to fell these trees by a concerned golf club member, who hadn’t received satisfactory answers from the club about why the trees needed to be chopped down. Today (Monday 15th) was the day designated for their felling; as it stands, an emergency Tree Preservation Order has been issued. This doesn’t mean the trees are safe forever – the TPO has to be confirmed in due course – but it’s safe to say the Golf Club knows its environmental performance is under scrutiny like never before. In a piece I did on BBC Radio Surrey on Friday afternoon I urged the club to be the best possible stewards of this protected landscape.

These are “just” three trees. But the campaign to save them taught me a lot that can help us stop the floodlights over Merrow Downs. It is clear that Guildford’s residents (not just Merrovians) really do care about protecting our natural environment, and will take action when they perceive a significant threat to it. Long before I suggested it, people were wondering about mounting a protest at the club; many, many people took the time to write emails to their newly elected councillors and to the golf club. Words of gratitude and appreciation continue to be posted on Nextdoor. People do care. Our new councillors acted swiftly and decisively and so did GBC Officers.

GBC’s Arboricultural Officer deserves special credit. He came to make a site visit and was willing whilst he was there to take a walk through the woodland at the top of Merrow Downs, appreciating immediately its value as a wildlife (and people) corridor and supporting our view that the steep bank on the Urnfield site should remain uncleared, with trees and scrub kept in place to fulfil an important wildlife and screening function. He undertook to feed this back to colleagues in the planning department who are being asked to approve the plans submitted by Tormead.

Meanwhile things are quiet on the GBC planning portal. One must assume that Tormead is scrabbling around trying to address the myriad of concerns we raised (mirrored in concerns Surrey Wildlife Trust and the West Surrey Badger Group raised), in relation to the ecological, drainage, construction and landscaping plans. Revised versions of these, when they appear, will land in a council buoyed up by the environmental activism of its residents and its elected members; we can build on that momentum.

And we need to. We may well have saved the natural environment at the bottom of Merrow Downs, but turn around….there’s a bigger battle yet to be won at the top.



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