On Sunday morning, campaigners gathered on Parkland Walk (a nature reserve in North London) to lament the planned felling of dozens of trees, including one known as The Hairy Oak. The morning began with a procession of Extinction Rebellion ‘Red Rebels’ – ghostly figures in blood-red costumes – accompanied by bells and drums. Passers-by and supporters then heard speeches from activists who have been trying to save the trees and negotiate alternative solutions to the problem of bridges needing repair or possible replacement.

Parkland Walk is a long-disused railway line that ran between Finsbury Park and Muswell Hill, which has since been designated a nature reserve. Most of it falls under Haringey Council, except for a short section which is Islington.

There are several old bridges along its route, and after many years of neglect and lack of maintenance, the council is now considering major works or total replacement.

According to a Haringey Council officer, a petition of several thousand signatures protesting the development had been ignored because “it was not submitted correctly”. Campaigners say that the planning application to replace the bridge at Stanhope Road received a flood of letters of objection and not a single letter of support.

This week, the Council was due to begin tree-felling. They have identified 12 trees at Stanhope Road, including the oak, some of which are going in order to install a giant concrete ramp for disability access. Dozens more trees will be felled just in order to carry out bridge surveys in at least four other places.

On Monday morning a small protest took place as one woman sat in the Hairy Oak tree, and another stood under one of the trees that workers were intending to fell. The Haringey Council officer in charge of the project, David Theakston, removed placards and bent them double to throw into bins, tore down a larger banner attached to the tree the protester was sitting in, and also took away her camping chair and a trolley with personal belongings.

The workers moved to the site of one of the other bridges, but a couple of protesters turned up there and again work stopped – this time for the day.

This morning, the woman in the tree was accompanied by a handful of other people, and when Mr. Theakston and his team arrived and saw them, he made a 999 call to the police. The officer who attended quickly realised that any claim the area was not public, or that the work was properly authorised, would have to be investigated. He invited Theakston to explain to the protesters why the tree needed to come down. He refused.

Three more officers turned up, and after hearing both sides, said they were leaving and hoped they wouldn’t be called again. Theakston said he thought there was a ‘strong chance they’d be called again’.

Haringey Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency when it was fashionable to do so, but the reality is that there is no real sense of emergency, the public are for the most part blissfully ignorant of any changes, and there is no joined up thinking between departments to tackle problems with any sort of emergency plan. The main reason the bridge needs replacing is not because of weight issues from joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers above, but because if it collapses it would be a danger to road traffic below.

One solution, in a climate and ecological emergency, might be to prioritise nature over continued road use. If the narrow two-lane side road below were closed off by a simple support structure for the bridge, no ecological damage would be done, but in response to this suggestion, Theakston said that he wasn’t in the Roads Planning Department, and that the idea was “ludicrous”.

Climate scientists and people who are acting as if it actually IS an emergency rather than just saying the words, might think that what is ludicrous is prioritising city vehicle traffic, over the integrity of a long-established nature reserve.

More campaign info: Haringey Tree Protectors