The elm tree had always been there at the end of our road. Ever the greenest, it made our patch of sky even bluer, standing head and shoulders above the creamy Regency terrace curving behind it. Sure, over the last 130 years it was crowding the pavement a bit but you were happy to step around. At night, it framed the stars between its branches and sometimes caught the moon like a balloon.
At first, nobody spotted the official notice nailed to its bark among the missing pets and coffee mornings. Then word travelled from the café to the chemist and after it hit the post office everybody knew: Brighton & Hove Council were going to chop it down. Axes were being sharpened. Instantly, the tree we all passed every day became our tree and overnight became The Seven Dials Elm, named for our neighbourhood.
The Seven Dials Elm, one of the few left standing after Dutch Elm Disease, was set to fall to planners claiming its roots were damaging the road. Planners employed by a Green council.
A petition replaced the execution notice and soon had hundreds of signatures. Then thousands. Actual tree-huggers lined up to show their love and an inter-faith humanist blessing was bestowed. More and more neighbours gathered there and rather than stepping round they stopped and talked. Citing health and safety, the council immediately barricaded it with tall wire fences. This was a turning point. Seeing our tree behind bars enraged even the apathetic who might have noticed a stump but not been all that bothered.
For the first time, our tree grew fruit. Branches burgeoned with flags then two protesters climbed up moving in with affronted squirrels. For two days and nights they nested in the branches in neon sleeping bags and we all took turns taking them cups of tea and snacks hoisted up on a rope. National media finally took notice and in stepped our local MP: Caroline Lucas.
The one thing we can all agree is that uncertainty is the new certainty
The UK’s only Green MP used her power to help convince one of the country’s few Green councils to save one of England’s few remaining elm trees. After weeks of pressure, and some serious eco-shaming, the council laid down their axes. Our tree was saved and immediately seemed even taller, ever greener.