The arrest on Wednesday of a 57-year-old woman for playing a plastic trumpet in a Sheffield street is only the latest in a series of incidents that have marked an ongoing battle between Sheffield City Council, which through its PFI contractors is felling thousands of mature trees and replacing them with saplings, and campaigners who deplore the destruction of healthy trees and are doing everything in their power to stop it. The campaign to preserve the city’s trees has attracted high-profile supporters, ranging from the Environment Secretary Michael Gove to local MPs and Pulp frontman and Sheffield native Jarvis Cocker. None of them have succeeded in persuading the Labour council to halt or suspend the programme, or to bring an end to an increasingly bitter contest that has led to the arrests of many of those taking direct action to protect the trees.
The Council has strongly defended its actions, saying that only damaging, diseased or dangerous trees are being removed, and many residents agree with them. The latter might be tempted to describe the protesters as tree huggers, a disparaging term that could be applied to those who are striving to prevent Sheffield’s famously tree-lined streets from being transformed into treeless wastelands. They might even say the protesters are barking up the wrong tree or describe them as being out of their tree. Perhaps at this point neither side is capable of seeing the wood for the trees.
Tree has other meanings, of course, notably a structure with separate parts for hanging things on, such as a mug tree, or a diagram with multiple branching elements, such as a family tree or a decision tree.
The word tree comes from the Old English trēow or trēo and shares a root (etymology being another kind of tree) with the Greek ‘doru’ meaning ‘wood’ or ‘spear’.Email this Post