This Day in History | 1993 – Activists lose battle over chestnut tree

Dozens of people have been injured at the end of a 20-year battle to save a 250-year-old chestnut tree in east London.

Twenty protesters were arrested after they clashed with 200 police officers sent to ensure a court order to cut down the tree was enforced.

The tree – now reduced to stump – was growing at George Green, Wanstead, the only open space left in the area. Contractors plan to build a tunnel link through the green to the M11 at Redbridge with the Blackwall Tunnel road in Hackney.

Environmentalists built a house in the tree, formed a human shield around it and chained themselves together with steel tubes.

Protester Emma Must said: “They cannot remove us unless they hacksaw through the tubes, which is going to take them some hours.”

Violence broke out as police moved the activists amid claims officers used excessive force.

Some reports suggested women were dragged by their hair and punches were thrown, but these were strongly denied by police.

Chief Supt Stuart Giblin said: “My officers acted professionally despite some of the comments and behaviour of the protesters.”

They were finally pulled away from the tree but later formed a blockade by lying across the road to prevent a crane approaching.

It was the worst day in several years of action against the controversial construction of the link road.

“You’re killing the Earth,” they shouted at contractors.

“We are full-time guardians of the Earth. We want to stop the Earth from being killed,” said one protester.

They claim the 3.5 mile (5.6 km) link, on which work began in September, will not only damage the local environment but waste money, costing £230m.

Eventually most of the area was cleared, but the crane was forced to go into action with one activist still chained to it and several others up the trunk.

But following 10 hours of scuffles, the remaining people were removed and the tree chopped down.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

The tree had been recognised by the High Court as a legal dwelling because the Post Office delivered mail to it from around the world.

A small book of some of this post was published.

The M11 protest was one of the first of its kind in the country and set a precedent for similar scenes during future road building.

It was the first where bunkers and tunnels were dug and even after the tree was gone, protesters continued to wreak havoc in the area by occupying surrounding buildings due for demolition.

Despite the difficulties the extension was completed and open by the end of 1999.

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