A campaign to protect a tree gets help from unexpected quarters in this story from Ross Raisin
None of us had ever paid much attention to the tree before. “It was just a tree,” as Terry told the woman from Radio London during the height of the stand-off, “until all of this.”
Everybody knows about the tree now, this beech tree, to be exact, whose 204 years put it at the same age, if he were still alive, as Charles Darwin. The 204 figure was initially contested by Pridehaven, but it became so frequently circulated that Pridehaven stopped contesting the tree’s age to focus instead on the more pressing matter of the legal challenge. When the protest began, we named the tree – ten storeys high, roughly the same height as the building scheduled to replace it and rooted deeply beneath the pavement of the development’s only through road – the Gooseberry Finch Tree, after the old estate pub, over which its highest branches shed their autumn leaves into the little abandoned beer garden like a scattering of eviction notices. The pub had been quietly closed down, following a routine Compulsory Purchase Order, and was earmarked for demolition in the spring. The Gooseberry Finch Tree, however, was due to be exterminated first, the tree’s removal date – the twentieth of November – pinned at head height to the trunk on a piece of laminated A4.
Even before the removal notice was posted, a vigil started forming in front of the hoardings that screened off the pub: The Gooseberry Finch Community. On weekday lunchtimes the group expanded to twenty or more, milling cheerily around the bottom of the tree. There was a tea and cake stall, a bucket of chalks for children to draw on the pavement, and an occasional guitarist. And there was Piers, the Gooseberry Finch Tree’s only permanent resident. People often forget that the Community had existed for several weeks before Piers and his friends arrived; that if Piers had never joined us then it might have all turned out so differently.