Field maple trees on Goodge Street in May 2020.
How the field maple trees looked in May 2020.

It took more than ten years for the field maple trees planted by Camden Council on Goodge Street to develop large and beautiful canopies to provide shade and carbon storage to combat climate change. But it only took a few hours for the council’s contractors to undo all these environmental benefits.

And how the same trees look after Camden’s own contractors hacked them in June 2021.

Last year Fitzrovia News photographed the trees flourishing. We reported that native trees just like these would have been growing in the area since 8,000 years ago and until the early eighteenth century when the area was known as Walnut and Crabtree Fields and the land was cleared as London expanded north.

Field maple (Acer campestre) supports at least 26 species of insect and makes an important contribution to biodiversity and their leaf canopy helps to combat climate change and cool the streets in hot weather.

The five trees were “midlde-aged” and in “good” condition on inspection in 2019, according to Camden’s tree database.

They took years to grow. But their beauty and environmental benefits were cut in a few hours.

But on Sunday 27 June, and without warning, they were pruned so harshly that nearly half their canopy was removed making them look mis-shaped — and in one fell swoop cutting their environmental benefits. It was reminiscent of the tree cut in half due to a neighbour dispute in Sheffield. But in Goodge Street it was five trees.

We suspected that Camden had done it as a result of Westminster Council’s recently announced plans to part-pedestrianise Oxford Street which will see buses diverted along Mortimer Street and Goodge Street. Although bus drivers have been regularly trundling along Goodge Street when there’s a problems on Oxford Street

We asked Camden Council:

Why were they cut in this manner — against Camden’s own policy to improve canopy cover and biodiversity in the borough?

It is not usual to cut trees in June. Was a nesting survey conducted beforehand?

Why does Camden see fit to let commerce and motor traffic take precedence over greening?

What is Camden doing to remedy the situation?

We received a terse response from a Camden Council spokesperson who said: “This work was carried out in response to a request from TfL to allow for a temporary bus diversion on Goodge Street while Oxford Street remains closed between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. The canopy of the trees will grow back and the trees will continue to be cared for (sic) through our inspection and maintenance programme.”

Clearly Camden takes readers of Fitzrovia News for fools. The cutting is so severe that the branch structure of the trees is permanently deformed. It is vandalism.

It’s an irony that in the spring of this year Camden announced it had been awarded the Tree Cities of the World designation by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) along with the Arbor Day Foundation, following its previous success in 2019.

“For Camden to receive ‘Tree City of the World’ status for a second consecutive year is testament to the hard work the council has been putting into maintaining and improving our tree stock and coverage across the borough,” said Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden.

Goodge Street is in Cllr Adam Harrison’s ward.