The Shoreham Poplar Front’s campaign to save a huge poplar tree has eventually succeeded. The tree is on the site of the old demolished Civic Centre next to the Duke of Wellington pub on Brighton Road. The planning application by Hyde Homes for a large housing development that the Council approved at the beginning of 2021 involved felling the tree. That will not now happen.
It has been a long, often frustrating, journey by all those involved in the campaign. But with unyielding commitment, endless passion and sheer persistence they achieved a notable success against the odds. At the all-day celebration on East Street on June 17th, Darcy Harrison recounted the stages over the last two years that finally led to success.
How to save a tree
At first, they simply tried to persuade the developer to alter the design and keep the tree – to no avail. They set up the Shoreham Poplar Front Facebook group that now has 1,400 members. They submitted a petition with 2,500 signatures to the council. They drew one of the largest attendances at a planning committee meeting, where every speaker was in favour of saving the tree. But despite all the sound reason and noisy protest, the plan was approved and the tree would be destroyed.
So the Shoreham Poplar Front started an occupation of the tree which lasted 250 days and nights. They organised a music festival, a 3/4 mile long procession of 300 people, won the vocal support of celebrity TV presenters and naturalists, and gained widespread popular support and awareness. But still it made no difference to the developers or the Council.
Finally, they commissioned their own architects to draw up an alternative design that increased the number of homes whilst preserving the tree. At last the council took note and worked with the campaign to successfully persuade the developers to change their mind. After six months of behind-the-scenes negotiations they made a joint announcement in May that the tree would stay.
The campaign to save the tree is to be applauded, not just for its success, but also for the manner in which it went about it and the magnanimous appreciation of all those involved, including finally, Adur District Council and the developers, Hyde Homes. The experience has immense relevance both for the future well-being of Shoreham and for threats to urban ecosystems everywhere.
Why save this tree?
Darcy Harrison went on to explain why it was important to save this tree. As he said himself, although it’s a unique tree between Brighton and Worthing piers, it’s only one tree. It’s not a wood or a forest. Besides, the planning system insists that new trees must be planted to compensate for the loss. But as he said, they may as well be plastic trees. They will take decades to grow into an equivalent ecosystem.
This healthy, mature tree today supports thousands of species, many of which depend solely on poplar trees. They would perish if the tree were cut down and our urban biodiversity would be all the poorer.
We wholeheartedly support Darcy’s final summing up, his challenge to Adur Council: “make sure that all future developments, by default, retain the trees that are mature and healthy as part of that development.”