‘Reflection, anger, protest’: Notice This Tree event puts spotlight on environmental loss

A sign reading ‘Notice this tree’ was hung on the Happy Man before its felling in 2021. Photograph: Save the Happy Man Tree

A unique event offering people a chance to reflect on the trees they have loved and lost has been announced in Hackney.

Notice This Tree, organised by residents, is being billed as an intervention at which people can gather to celebrate a tree – whether it’s at risk, has already been felled, or is simply one they love.

The event invites residents to walk to Hackney Town Hall on 29 February for a roll call of local trees, followed by a screening of Katy McGahan’s The Happy Man Tree documentary at Hackney Picturehouse.

In January 2021, campaigners mourned the loss of the 150-year-old Happy Man Tree after trying to save it from being felled to make way for new homes.

Organiser Peter Buckingham, who at the time of the felling was slapped with an injunction that banned him from going near the Happy Man, said the Notice This Tree event grew in a “rather wonderful way that communal work does when people start to co-create something”.

McGahan filmed the fight to save the tree almost from day one.

Campaigners later urged people to watch the documentary in order to “bring the voice of trees into this space”, he explained.

‘Notice this tree’ was once written on a protest sign hung from a branch of the Happy Man.

Buckingham said: “It’s an invitation for people to come and notice a tree. Unfortunately, more often it applies to trees that suddenly become at-risk, or are never noticed and are suddenly gone.”

He calls the event an “intervention” because it allows a space for people to think and reflect on loss – something strangers rarely do together or even alone.

“Other feelings do come in: anger comes in, and protest,” Buckingham added.

“If we were connected to the impact of loss, maybe some things as a culture wouldn’t be done.”

He feels there are more people “noticing and becoming attached to trees than there used to be”.

“Underpinning this is the environmental crisis,” he said. “You can’t keep cutting mature trees down, you just can’t do that.”

Mayor of Hackney Caroline Woodley explained that the council has planted 5,000 new street trees in the borough in the last four years – “one of the largest urban tree-planting programmes in the country”.

New trees benefit from 18 months of care and watering before they enter a young tree maintenance programme, including pruning and adjustments, with inspections to ensure their health.

For any new trees that suffer damage or fail, the council has a tree replacement scheme.

Woodley said: “We also recognise the importance of maintaining a broad canopy of mature trees that bring numerous benefits, including cooling streets in hot weather.

“We have recently created an incredibly detailed Hackney Tree Map to help residents find out more information about trees in their neighbourhood; this identifies in excess of 45,000 trees plotted across streets, parks, housing and open spaces, listing their species, common name and age.”

The council’s parks strategy for 2021 to 2031 commits it to “working with communities, creating more welcoming spaces, and doing everything we can to ensure Hackney remains environmentally sustainable, making improvements wherever possible”, Woodley said.

“To help deliver on these commitments, we work with lots of volunteers, experts and local groups, including the Tree Musketeers, who plant dozens of trees and help them grow in Hackney’s parks and green spaces each year.”