Update July 2023:
A disappointing start to our 15 July task day was the discovery that someone has placed horse-muck around the vandalised tree at Lock 11. We cleared this up and have reported it to local councillors, the council and police with a warning that it appears to be another action with malevolent intent towards the young people who use the area.
Update June 2023:
In June 2023 Friends of the Park arranged for four oak logs to be transported to the central area of the park. The aim was to created informal seating that can be used by young people in an area of the park that should be safe from interference by the park's law-breaking neighbours near to Lock 11. We were helped in this by local landscaping contractor Shelby Landscapes Ltd.
Public statement about vandalised tree near Lock 11
Friends of the Park feel the need to make a public statement about the mature Birch tree in the canal-side woodland near to Lock 11, and to explain what has happened to it recently.
The group know that this once special tree, seen intact in the photos below, was a huge favourite with children due to the unusually low branches that made it unique and really easy to climb. When Lock 11 was repaired by the Canal and River Trust in 2019 we persuaded them to change their access plans to avoid their contractor's intended removal of this tree.
We wish to make it clear to the local community that it is not Friends of the Park who have attacked this tree and caused criminal damage to it, nor was it the council. Furthermore, we strongly condemn the acts of vandalism carried out to it by persons unknown.
Here is what we do know and what we think has happened...
On the evening of Thursday 8 September at approximately 20.47 we received a message from a local resident passing through the park that two men were sawing at a white Birch tree near to the boundary of the park, adjacent to the canal tow path at Lock 11, in complete darkness. We asked the resident to report this to the police, which they did. We also phoned Marple Police Station at around 21.00 and spoke to an officer who advised he would go and check things out but we learned later that this didn't happen due to other demands on his time.
The following morning, Friday 9 September, we inspected the tree and found that two of the large lower branches had been removed and discovered some of it hidden in the brambles and undergrowth opposite. We noted that the stumps left on the tree had dirt rubbed into them to try and disguise the activity that had taken place. It was also noted that there was quite a lot of graffiti on the tree, which led us to conclude that young people had probably been gathering there and sitting on the low branches. This has since been confirmed by one of our volunteers who passes through the park regularly and had seen them a number of times. We believe the most likely scenario is that the vandalism of the tree has been a reaction to young people gathering there carried out or instigated by a neighbour who was being disturbed by this activity. We wrote to local councillors, police and council officers expressing our concern at the criminal damage that has taken place and asked if any of them had received reports of antisocial behaviour at this location that may support this conclusion.
We were told by the police that they had no record of any complaints about young people at this location.
During our task day on Saturday 10 September we investigated further and found more branches from the tree that had been dragged along the woodland path and hidden in the undergrowth. We also spotted that a saw cut had been started on the largest of the lower limbs that carried three more low branches. We'd missed seeing this during the first visit but yesterday's photos showed it was done at the same time. As we were leaving the site two teenage girls were approaching the tree and were obviously upset at seeing the damage for the first time. We briefly explained that it wasn't Friends of the Park who had done this and that we were very unhappy too.
A while later, when working near the library the same two girls walked past Mark Whittaker, one of our volunteers, and one of them muttered "you cut down our favourite tree". Mark managed to stop them and have a non-confrontational conversation to explain that it was not Friends of the Park and reiterate that we were as unhappy as they are about it. Mark explained that it had occurred on Thursday night and we had reported it to the police, the council and local councillors. Mark also explained that we suspect it was done because of disturbances there by groups of young people. The girls, who didn't respond to that, were polite and respectful throughout the conversation.
We followed up with local councillors, police and council officers expressing our worry that people may think it was Friends of the Park or the council who did this. We also expressed concern that the culprits may return to cause further damage and urged them to take action to address this unfortunate and upsetting situation. The council responded on 12 September:
Council will take action to inspect the tree and will liaise with local residents to assist GMP in their enquiries.
On the morning of Friday 23 September, before the council inspected the tree or liaised with residents, we were deeply disappointed to discover that the vandals had been back and cut-off the remaining low branches from the tree, completely destroying its unique character. Once again the stumps were rubbed with dirt to try and disguise how recently the damage had been done and the branches were dragged and scattered throughout the woodland. We contacted the council immediately and they conducted a door-to-door consultation that afternoon.
One of our volunteers walked past the tree on the morning of Thursday 22 September and it was as previously reported on 9 September. It is therefore likely that the second act of criminal damage was carried out on Thursday evening and this time wasn't witnessed by anyone, or certainly not reported. The council feedback from their door-to-door visit was:
Residents have been asked to pass any information to GMP as this is criminal damage and is not acceptable. Residents were encouraged to report any ASB issues to the appropriate channels whether this be GMP or the Council and gave a strong message to please engage with the correct authorities rather than taking matters into their own hands.
Friends of the Park conclusion at this time
Friends of the Park are disgusted and disheartened at this despicable act of violence against what was a unique and hugely popular tree in our park. We would like to see the culprits identified and prosecuted but that is unlikely to happen unless strong evidence of who was responsible can be made available to the council and the police. We are also mortified that park users may think we were responsible for this act, or that we condone it. We certainly do not and will be taking further measures to try to make sure the local community are aware of this.
During our task day on Saturday 24 September we tidied up the branches that the vandals had dragged through the woodland in an attempt to hide them. We've created several wood piles that we hope will become homes for wildlife, which is about all we can do to soften the blow. It's not much we know.
Leaf the Trees: a silent protest we support
While tidying up we discovered several posters placed around the area by young people who have clearly been upset by this action and we want them to know that we are really sad too.