Gladiators, Defenders and Women in Trees

Treewoman goes out to find trees almost every day

Well I think it’s been quite a week. If you’re interested in trees anyway.

The UK government appointed a Tree Defender, the first one in history, and he’s called Sir William Worsely, which I think is a very nice name. Makes me think of a Knight in Shining Armour on a Snow White Steed with a coat-of-arms in the form of an Oak tree. 

It’s all come about because of Sheffield of course. Sheffield is an unmitigated national tree disaster, so Sir William has a real job to cut his noble teeth on.

For those of you that don’t know, Sheffield has had a reputation as one of the greenest cities in Britain for a long time, mainly because of its impressive tree-lined streets and public spaces. The current City Council however, cash-strapped as all of them are now, decided (under pressure from private maintenance contractors Amey) that minimizing expensive damage to roads and pavements should be allowed to take priority over…well, just about everything else, including the city’s priceless green reputation. An ill-conceived (some might say dastardly) plan was hatched involving the removal of 5,500 trees since 2012 and the earmarking of thousands more for removal in the near future. 

The local population valiantly attempted not only to have their voices heard (well the Council were supposed to be representing their views, we live in a democracy?) but to actively disrupt the felling process by means of tried and tested methods: chaining themselves to trees, accosting workmen, standing in the way and shouting “health and safety” and (allegedly) spiking the tree fellers cups of tea with laxative (that’s not tried and tested, I think it’s a new one, apparently highly effective). 

Sharing space – beautifully

The brave (and inventive) local people were served with writs, physically removed from their own gardens, restrained, intimidated, relentlessly ignored as citizens with democratic agency and eventually taken to court, where they were told their actions could be deemed unlawful and they must stop it or go to jail. Fair play then to Michael Gove who stood up last March and told Sheffield City Council it was guilty of ‘Environmental Vandalism’. The appointment of the Tree Defender means that Councils will now have to consult residents before felling trees. Ok. That’s good.

Another thing that happened last week was that the CEO of the Girls Day School Trust used a speech-making opportunity at her Annual Conference to tell power-grabbing board-level males to back-off. “To those who see themselves not so much as leaders of complex organisations but gladiators striding into the arena, this has to stop.” Cheryl Giovanni said. “The Meeting Room is not the Colosseum. And, frankly, you are not Russell Crowe.” Awww. I like Russell Crowe. (She didn’t say that last thing, it was me.)

And then, in a spookily prescient bit of timing, the remit-setting inaugural meeting of Women In Arboriculture (or Women in Trees if it’s easier) convened in the sunny cotswolds, bringing together a very healthy concern for trees and a palpable (you had to be there) determination to encourage more women into the field of Arb. Have to say, the meeting itself was a joy. Discussion was wide-ranging, rich and respectful, the assembled company diverse and creative, actions agreed multiple and exciting.

To quote the CEO of The Girls’ Day School Trust one more time, “Women exhibit many of the traits associated with effective leadership – effective communication and delegation, a tendency to empower all team members, creative problem-solving, collaboration, consensus-building. We need to create a modern world where these powerful female traits are equally valued and expressed by both men and women”.

Let’s get started

Conflict has a way of fuelling change when it’s creatively addressed by positive people. My most immediate ambition is to help fuel the positivity I experienced setting a remit for action with a small band of imaginative tree-women in Gloucestershire this week. I hope we can persist, and even grow, metamorphosing gracefully into a wider movement for occupational diversity and inclusiveness. And I hope we will strenuously support, in a wholly non-combative way, the small number of women currently contributing their professional efforts in this increasingly important field.


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