Barnard Park revamp could see 13 mature trees felled as football pitch relocated

An artist's impression of what Barnard Park could look like in the revamp

An artist's impression of what Barnard Park could look like in the revamp, with the smaller nine-a-side football pitch repositioned diagonally, resulting in the destruction of a plane tree - Credit: Islington Council

The revamp of Barnard Park could see 13 mature trees chopped down to make way for a repositioned, smaller football pitch.

Islington Council has come under fire over the past year for chopping down trees to make way for flats - notably at Highbury Corner where activists staged a three month-long protest to try to stop their destruction - but the council said the loss was necessary there to build new homes. 

This time the trees under threat are in a park. 

The Barnsbury park currently houses the borough’s last free-to-use full size football pitch. 

In 2017 the council came under fire for plans to split the park into a seven-a-side pitch and “green areas”. The application was withdrawn following protests from users and a call-in from the government, leading the council to submit new plans for a 3G nine-a-side pitch.

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Rather than locating the new pitch where the current pitch now stands, planners have decided to shift it 45 degrees into a diagonal position in the park.

This means a mature London plane tree - which could live for another 40 years - as well as a mature cherry tree will both have to be chopped down because they don't fit with the new layout.

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According to arboriculturalist Christopher Wright from Tim Moya Associates, who the council commissioned to report on the proposed loss, the lime tree is considered a 'Category A specimen', and has at least another 40 years to live.

It would be the "most notable" loss, while the destruction of a Category B cherry tree is also "noteworthy".

A mature lime - another Category B tree with at least 20 years of life left - which forms part of a long belt of limes stretching from the park's southern entrance to its northern entrance, would need to go to make way for a path. 

A further 10 mature trees also need to be felled to make way for the new plans.

"Whilst the individual quality of many trees is good, it is in their collective presence that their value is most pronounced (eg the line of Category A lime trees along the eastern boundary of the site), because the trees create a verdant oasis within a dense urban area," said Mr Wright in his report.

The council would plant 51 new trees in mitigation, and maintains the changes will help more people to "enjoy the health benefits that the park can offer", with the improved sports pitch, large grass area and new eco-friendly community building.

Speaking to the Gazette this week about the council's climate emergency festival, Cllr Rowena Champion said the tree loss was necessary in order to fit in the new nine-a-side pitch - negating the fact that there is already a larger 11-a-side pitch in the park where it could be located.

Barnard Park in Barnsbury

Barnard Park in Barnsbury - Credit: Google

She said: "The council had a plan for a seven-a-side sports pitch. It was called in by the Secretary of State because it was thought by Sports England not to be big enough, so as a result of that we have been compromised on a nine-a-side football pitch, which means that we have to find a way of fitting that into the park while still retaining the other features that make it a park."

She continued: "We tried to do our best to orientate the pitch to save as many trees as possible."

Setting out the importance of mature trees, the council's Vision 2030 report on how to make Islington net zero carbon. states: "The main driving force behind climate change is the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

"The natural environment can help mitigate climate change by storing and sequestering atmospheric carbon as part of the carbon cycle. An example of the role that the natural environment in carbon storing and sequestration is the role trees play.

"Since about 50 per cent of wood by dry weight is comprised of carbon, tree stems and roots can store up to several tonnes of carbon for decades or even centuries. 

"As trees die and decompose, they release this carbon back into the atmosphere."

The felled trees will be made into wood chippings.

Asked whether the council is taking climate change seriously, Cllr Champion said: "The enhancements to Barnard Park in biodiversity terms is really quite considerable. We are replanting trees and doing wild planting and it will be much better in terms of biodiversity."

Barnsbury resident Sheilagh Davies told the Gazette: "I am personally appalled that these splendid old trees will be cut down in the spring.

"In my view this goes against all national and international views on conservation of trees."

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