Monday, 6 November 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our third prayer for our wild kin


Here is the third of our November Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Cuthbert and to a call for protection for our wild kinfolk. If you would like to read more about this month’s novena you can read our first prayer here. I must admit that I have truly struggled with this particular prayer in a way that I rarely do. I am going to spend some time reflecting on whether this has been because of a personal struggle from my day, a collective struggle around this particular horrible issue, or a bit of both. Prayer is sacred work. Sometimes it is hard.

We have already lifted prayers for our badgers, who have been afflicted by several years of brutal and unjust culling, together with scapegoating for all manner of human folly, and our hedgehogs, who are under threat from human lack of awareness and bad decision making effecting the natural environment in ways that we little understand. Today, we turn to a more direct and obvious attack by humans on our non-human neighbours; the plight of Sheffield’s trees.

(Image: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough in South Yorkshire, at the foot of the Pennines and gaining its name from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. 61% of its area is green space with a third of it lying within the Peak District National Park. There are more than 250 parks, woodlands, and gardens in the city and, it is estimated, over 2 million trees. Trees are so deeply entwined in Sheffield’s collective consciousness.

Most of the following information has been taken from the excellent STAG (Save Sheffield’s Trees Action Groups), an umbrella group representing many local tree action groups…

https://savesheffieldtrees.org.uk/

From 2006 to 2007 a firm called Elliott Consultancy undertook an independent survey of Sheffield’s 35,057 street trees. These trees had mostly been planted in the last 100 to 120 years; many paid for and planted by local communities as a way to brighten up their city famed for industry and particularly steel production. Other street trees were planted as ‘living memorials’ to war dead, some as grand avenues planted by wealthy manufacturers, and a few being the remains of ancient boundary lines and field edges. The survey found that, although 74% of the trees were ‘mature’, 71% of these (25,000 trees) were healthy and needed no work. It was suggested that, of the other 10,000 street trees, only a handful would require replacement. By the end of 2016, 5,000 of Sheffield’s street trees had been felled, with 1,000 further removals planned for 2017, and 200 per year until 2037 after that. By that time, all 10,000 street trees will be gone.  
In 2012, a 25 year £2.2 billion ‘Streets Ahead’ PFI contract was signed between Sheffield City Council and Amey PLC. The contract referred to highway, pavement, and street light renewal, which was to include management of the city’s trees. £1 billion was provided by the Department of Transport from tax-payers’ money and Sheffield City Council took out loans to pay the other half. In an interview later that year SCC’s Head of Highway Maintenance stated that half of the city’s 36,000 street trees were to be replaced during the lifetime of the contract, without reason or need. Due to a lack of consultation the public only really became aware of this contract in early 2014 when felling notices began to go up on trees, or trees simply disappeared. In January that year the 450-year old ‘Melbourne Oak’ was felled, despite local protests and an expert survey showing that the tree was healthy. By 2015 several tree protection groups had formed, some blocking their streets to felling crews. A petition was handed to the SCC in June that year and following this the council set up ‘Tree Forums’ to allow discussion of their policy towards the trees. These were well attended by well-informed local residents and, faced with increasing criticism and opposition, SCC stopped the meetings.

Since that time several half-hearted attempts at ‘consultation’ with local communities have been made. These have been labelled ‘unrepresentative’, ‘undemocratic’, and ‘divisive’. In February 2016 an interim High Court injunction brought by STAG halted the felling of trees for several months but a Judical Review was denied. SCC have taken this as court approval of their actions and continue to claim that trees must be removed to protect pavements and roads from root damage. In June 2016 felling began again by Amey employees, now accompanied by South Yorkshire Police. In November two peacefully demonstrating protestors were arrested under laws designed to stop ‘flying pickets’ during industrial disputes. Since then the behaviour of the contractors seems to have become worse and worse. On one occasion, police woke residents at 4am to get them to move their cars so that trees could be felled. Two pensioners were arrested in their pyjamas whilst peacefully protesting and spent several hours in police cells. The case against them was later dropped. A local Green Party member, Simon Crump, was arrested for protecting a 100-year old Plane tree and held in a cell for eight hours. Again, the case was dropped. Only a few days ago local resident, Calvin Payne was threatened with a two year prison sentence for twice entering ‘safety zones’ around trees that the council were planning to fell. He was also found guilty of encouraging dissent via Facebook. Last week he received a suspended sentence, having refused to apologise for his actions.

SCC have dismissed all protests as ‘nonsense’ and ‘emotion’, as though that is a valid reason to dismiss anything, local residents would rather that it was seen as community cohesion and mutual support. Since 2014, week long vigils have been held, a protest camp has been set up in a local park, and residents often rush out of their homes to disrupt workmen. Writer Patrick Barkham has described the happenings in Sheffield as a “war on trees” and points out that no account has been taken of the contribution of the street trees to air quality, flood alleviation, and property prices, nor of their positive impact on mental and physical health. Some have noted that felling trees is more expensive to the council than repairing the pavements. However, felling is a money-making activity for Amey and there have been suggestions that the council may be sued if they don’t provide an environment in which tree felling can take place. Despite funding cuts under the Government’s Austerity agenda SCC have taken out a huge loan and sold the soul of their city to corporate greed. Local communities and their beloved street trees have paid the price.

Shared on Facebook and passed on with permission

Yesterday I wrote about the fossils known as ‘Saint Cuthbert’s beads’ and how we might envisage each of our prayers as a bead creating a string of protection for our wild kin as our novena goes on. I also mentioned that St Hilda of Whitby was once believed to be able to turn snakes into stone because of the large numbers of fossilised asmmonites washed up on the shore close to her abbey. It seems that we often wish to turn what is alive to stone, saints and snakes alike, and that it is more comfortable to us to look towards a still statue, rather than a living, breathing, often complex and confusing, being. We know where we are when something is ‘set in stone’. I like to think that Saint Cuthbert has become ‘more alive’ through these prayers. Certainly some of us have begun to imagine him in all manner of wild and wonderful ways! I am reminded that one of the first acts of David Cameron’s ‘ConDem’ Government was to begin the process of selling off our forests to huge public outcry. It is they who introduced the badger cull and so many other attacks on our wild. Living things, including trees, badgers, and people, are often inconvenient. Sheffield County Council in turn have shown little love for the ‘chaos’ of living beings, either for people rooted in community or for trees rooted in the earth. It seems that the concrete of a pavement is worth more than that to them. They would rather that their city was set in stone.

(greenblue.com)

Novena for the Fallen Through

Protection, justice, and shining health for our wild kin.

This prayer is for the street trees of Sheffield and for those who stand with them.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

We thank our Mother Earth and All That Is
for the blessing of the standing people,
for the trees who share our communities
and our day to day lives,
familiar as family,
close neighbours of deep root and changing season,
witnesses of our short journeys on this earth,
of our births and deaths, of our sorrows and joys,
of our folly and wisdom,
slow-growing and long-living
in contrast with the speed of the lives
that so many of us struggle to live,
holding the hope of belonging to place,
of once more knowing our own ground.

We thank Mother Earth and All That Is
for the blessing of the standing people,
each a whole world sustaining myriad beings,
communicating one with the other
through root networks that we can barely understand,
deeply entwined with the mycelium of Grandmother Fungus,
in a beautiful co-operation that we can only hope to emulate.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

And from that place, safe in the roots of the Great Tree,
we weep for the dying of Sheffield’s street trees
and all trees and green beings sacrificed
for seeming progress, convenience,
and corporate greed.

May the street trees of Sheffield live on as a symbol
of all trees, and all communities, who have suffered so.

We offer deep respect and gratitude
to all defenders of Sheffield’s street trees,
to all who have offered their skills and their talents
in defence of their nearby wild,
all who have stood alone or in community,
all who have rushed out with the dawn,
soft with sleep, vulnerable in their nightclothes,
to say “no!” to the murder of their beloved companion trees.

We offer deep respect and gratitude
to those who have witnessed
the dying of the standing people
and who have offered tears and rage for their passing.

We offer deep respect to all who grieve, all who mourn,
and all who continue to fight on through it all.

We offer love and sorrow to all who look out
on once familiar streets
now unrecognisable in their missing green.

We lift a prayer for solace and healing,
for human and tree.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

We ask that you stir and soften the hearts of those
who have power over Sheffield’s street trees,
that they might choose to stand with the people
against the faceless toxin of corporate disconnection
that seeks only money to the detriment of life.

May all come to stand defiant in the spaces
left by the fallen standing people,
becoming a forest of rebellion
against the degradation of beauty, community,
and wild life,
sustained by the sunlight of hope,
by the sweet rain of belonging,
knowing that power-out-of-balance
also has its season
and one day will fall like a leaf in autumn.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

We lift a prayer for the cherry trees
of Abbeydale Park Rise,
beloved of pollinators and people,
bright with blossom in spring
and Christmas lights in winter
to the joy of all.

We lift a prayer for the Chelsea Road elm,
120 years old and surviving
in a land of lost elms,
perhaps holding in its bark the
promise of survival for all its elm-kin.

We lift a prayer for the Melbourne Oak,
who once was and is no more,
the oldest of street trees,
450 years of belonging
lost to bureaucracy and indifference,
loved by many, still.

We lift a prayer for the Vernon Oak,
holding the memory of fields and farmhouses,
inspiring poems and art,
beloved of school children,
a bright star in an ebbing sea of green.

We lift a prayer for the seven limes of Chatsworth Road,
named by their human community
as Duchess, Dowager Duchess, Diana,
Davina, Dorothy, Dawn, and Deborah.
Because in naming we choose to love.

We lift a prayer for the Western Road War Memorial trees,
for a hundred years standing
as a reminder of the folly of war,
of once-children of a nearby school
fallen in unfamiliar earth,
once more rooted in home,
reborn with every spring.

Please, please don’t let them be cut down again.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

We lift a prayer for the 10,000 threatened street trees of Sheffield,
whether fallen or standing,
and for the safety of those not under threat.
May the fallen be remembered,
giving fuel for the journey.
May the standing remain in wild health,
safe in the soil that holds them.
May all the trees of Sheffield
be secure in their growing.
And may the people of Sheffield
always look on beauty.

We ask this in the name of badger and water vole,
hen harrier and natterjack toad,
red fox and red deer,
dotterel and dormouse,
red squirrel and seal.

Of starling and sparrow,
sand lizard and slow worm,
hedgehog and hare,
corn marigold and marsh cleaver.

Of great crested newt and small fleabane,
ringed plover and oystercatcher,
pasque flower and mountain ringlet butterfly,
wildcat and skylark.

Of marsh fritillary butterfly and shrill carder bee,
blue ground beetle and white-clawed crayfish,
freshwater pearl mussel, cormorant, and crow.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

We ask for strength and protection for all
in Sheffield who stand for tree and home,
all who speak truth to power,
knowing that attacks on people, badgers, trees,
and all wild kin, come from the same place of
fear for what is truly alive in a world of ghosts.

Let there be justice in Sheffield for trees and people,
rooted in wild grace and the sweet soil of community.

The first is for badger.
The second is for hedgehog.
The third is for Sheffield’s street trees.
May our string of prayer beads,
formed in the starry sea where all things are one,
gathered on the shore of meeting,
be filled with life, love, and wild justice
for all beings on this earth we share.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.


Yew tree, St Cuthbert's Church, Beltingham

Further information and references:

Sheffield Tree Action Groups ~ https://savesheffieldtrees.org.uk/


Please sign the Tree Charter:




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