Art

'The image says it all': The meaning behind Banksy's new London tree mural, revealed

Banksy’s new artwork is a 'brilliant but horrifying' reflection on the 'abuse' of urban nature, a conservation campaigners have declared

Banksy's new Finsbury Park mural. Credit: BBC screengrab

Banksy’s new artwork is a “brilliant but horrifying” reflection on the “abuse” of urban nature, a conservation campaign group has declared.

The acclaimed street artist’s new mural in North London’s Finsbury Park, just a stone’s throw from the Big Issue’s offices, shows a spread of green paint behind a real, heavily pruned tree.

Viewed from an angle, the paint mimics the tree’s foliage. Under its shade, a stencil of a person holding a pressure hose stands, looking up.

The graffiti is a stark symbol of the “savage” treatment of city trees, said Giovanna Iozzi, the founder of the Haringey Tree Protectors group, who operate in the borough neighbouring where the mural is painted.

“This is very harsh pollarding. A cherry tree should not be treated like this… it’s a horror show,” she said.

“Savage pruning is basically chopping at a tree’s lifeblood, this tree should be blossoming and bursting into fruit at this year.”

Pollarding is a pruning system whereby the upper parts of the tree are removed. The practice limits the tree’s growth, and stops weak branches from falling off. Over-pruning, however, can prevent a tree from sprouting any foliage at all.

Islington Council says that the cherry tree chosen by Banksy is 40-50 years old and in declining health, with decay and fungi damage. However, Iozzi says that brutal pollarding is all too common – and that there are “ways to support trees even when they are sick”.

“Pollarding can be poorly, savagely done. You’re cutting off all of the tree’s biodiversity potential,” she said. “If it was in flower, it would support insects and birds this time of year.”

Iozzi’s Haringey group campaign to protect trees from “insurers, developers, and councils.” Local authorities often come under severe pressure to fell trees, as fallen branches can damage property and lead to costly insurance claims.

Islington Council says that it is managing the health of the tree.

“This fantastic piece from Banksy has sparked a real buzz across Islington and beyond, and we very much want the artwork to stay for people to enjoy,” said councillor Roulin Khondoker, executive member for equalities, culture and inclusion at Islington’s Council.

“Trees are a vital part of our work to tackle the climate emergency. We’ve planted nearly 900 in the last year alone, and we work hard to care for our trees and help them to thrive.”

London has about 8.4 million trees, making it one of the world’s largest urban forests. Under the London Environment Strategy, mayor Sadiq Khan plans to increase tree cover by 10% by 2050. This will require an ambitious planting regime; around 10,000 trees are felled across the capital every year.

Across the UK, affluent areas are much more likely to boast urban tree cover. According to 2021 research by the Woodland Trust, neighbourhoods with the highest income levels have more than double the tree cover per person than less affluent neighbourhoods, and they have nearly 20% less of the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Iozzi said that Banksy’s artwork highlights the plight of urban nature more broadly.  

“I think he’s trying to highlight the issue – this is a microcosmic example of what we’re doing to nature and trees on a macro global level,” she added.

“I think he’s just making a really brilliant statement about how urban trees are really being abused. The image says it all, really.”

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