Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation (NESST) was formed in late 2019, on the basis of foundations built in the previous four years, by a predecessor group, called Save Nether Edge Trees (SNET). SNET itself was formed in September 2015, when large numbers of street trees in Nether Edge and Carter Knowle were listed for felling. Peaceful protest that year prevented trees from being felled on Wayland Road. However, this was just the beginning, as membership of the group grew and grew, particularly in November 2016, when peaceful protesters from SNET were falsely arrested on Marden Road, using anti-Trade Union laws that were subsequently found to be non-applicable to the situation.
Shortly afterwards, a Public Meeting held by SNET in the Union Pub attracted more than 100 people, outraged at the actions Sheffield Council and its contractor Amey were taking, and demanding something be done to prevent this unnecessary felling. There were of course other local tree action groups across Sheffield, but SNET were the only group to hold monthly Public Meetings for the duration of the campaign.
The fourteen month period between February 2017 and March 2018 was the most intense period of felling attempt activity. There are too many highs and lows to mention them all, but particularly memorable events were:
• February 2017 – The battle of Chippinghouse Road – Over a period of five days, four of the six trees listed for felling on this road were lost (the other two remains standing today). Five more campaigners were falsely arrested, including local Green Party Councillor, Alison Teal.
• May 2017 – Mass Felling Week – Amey hired ten additional felling crews from across the UK in attempt to break the campaign. Despite repeated “fell and run” efforts across that sunny May week, only eight trees in Nether Edge and Carter Knowle were lost, thanks to the hundreds of eyes and ears who reported the first hint of felling activity, and the brave campaigners who stood under trees to prevent the felling.
• August 2017 – The battles of Woodstock Road and Sheldon Road – Having taken out a legal injunction against campaigners, the Council thought future felling would be easy. They were wrong, as local campaigners were bolstered by support from across the city. Using “garden permissions” gained months earlier, campaigners were still able to stand under the canopy of the trees, and slow down or prevent felling. Whilst eight trees were lost ten were saved, and are still standing today.
• October 2017 – The first battle of Kenwood Road – A day after Michael Gove visited the city, called the Council actions “bonkers,” and was photographed with a tree on Kenwood Road, the Council and Amey attempted a blitz of felling activity on the same road, including “Michael Gove’s tree.” Despite five full days of felling attempts, not a single tree was felled. Around forty local and city wide campaigners used a variety of increasingly innovative and peaceful tactics to thwart felling.
• December 2017 – Night time “vampire pruning” – So desperate to fell trees were the Council, they authorised night time hand pruning of canopies above gardens, to try and render “garden permissions” useless. This led to local residents mounting night time patrols to detect the pruning crews.
• February 2018 – Beast from the East week – In bitterly cold snowy weather, Amey attempted five days of felling on Thornsett Road. Four trees were lost, but felling was grindingly slow, and again eight trees were saved, all of which remain standing today.
• March 2018 – The second battle of Kenwood Road – This was the last major felling attempt in Nether Edge, and saw 60 local and city-wide tree campaigners in cat and mouse activity with 30 Police, 20 Private Security, and 10 felling crew. All watched by local and national media, Councillors, the Police and Crime Commissioner, and bemused passers-by. Two trees were sadly felled that day.
Shortly afterwards, the Information Commissioner forced the Council to answer a Freedom of Information request that revealed the PFI contract obligations that had led to all the tree felling. This included an obligation to fell half of all Sheffield’s street trees over 25 years, and a further obligation to ensure perfect straight unbroken kerb lines. A national media frenzy ensued, and the Council announced a temporary pause to the felling. The temporary pause became permanent when a local campaigner ensured that the Forestry Commission launched a criminal investigation into the illegal felling of so many street trees, without having applied for a licence.
In Autumn 2018, talks were held between campaigners, the Council, and Amey, which led to a truce being called in December 2018. Over the course of 2019, frosty relations thawed, as many of the remaining threatened trees were officially saved, using simple cheap engineering solutions such as thinner kerb stones and minor kerb line deviations. A new exemplary Street Tree Strategy was jointly developed and published in March 2020.
Over the course of the campaign, local neighbours who had never spoken before, got to know each other. From diverse backgrounds and age groups, with a multitude of diverse skill sets, SNET brought these people together, with a common endeavour, to protect our local natural environment. It wasn’t all about street trees. Fundraising activity included talks about ecology and social history, street parties were called, and activities even included a coach trip!
After all this community building, the SNET “Core Group,” who led most of the SNET administrative activity, felt that closing SNET completely would be a real shame. So they developed plans over a twelve month period to convert SNET into a successor group, focus not just on street trees, but on the wider natural environment and sustainability. And so Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation (NESST) was born….