Save Sheffield’s Trees – A Case Study in Green Crime and Green Criminology

Amey, a private company, contracted by Sheffield council to maintain roads and pavements has chopped down 4000 trees in Sheffield in recent years.

Some of these trees were a hundred years old, and there was absolutely nothing wrong them; the main reason for chopping them down seems to be economic – it’s cheaper to maintain roads in the long-term without the roots of old trees pushing up paving slabs and road surfaces.

(NB – The council claimed the reason for chopping down the trees is that they were diseased, but this appears to have been a lie, with experts having confirmed that there was nothing wrong with 75% of them.)

Chopping down trees is good for the company and council because it saves them both money, but it does at least the following harms –

  • It reduces the property values of local residents (think about it – semi-detached houses, tree lined streets, these are desirable areas to live).
  • It reduces the quality of life for everyone in the city – basically just look nice for everyone walking around the city.
  • It kills the trees, which are living organisms after all.
  • Trees contribute to flood alleviation and reduce pollution, so chopping them down does further environmental damage beyond just killing the trees themselves.

However, despite these harms, chopping down these trees is not a criminal act. Under the terms of the PFI contract with Sheffield council – chopping down these trees is totally legal*, so the company doing this is breaking no law, and thus will suffer no criminal prosecution.

In fact, the law actually sides against the handful of people who have protested against these trees being cut down. Some protesters (including two 70 year old women) who tried to disrupt a 5.00 a.m. dawn tree-chopping raid in one street were arrested and held in jail for 8 hours, and face up to 6 months in jail for their actions.

While existing law treats as criminal those few people who are protecting the trees, according to Green Criminologists the real criminals are the company and the council who are committing a ‘crime against the environment’, even though technically under UK law they are not actually doing anything criminal, because the council owns the trees are on council property – the pavements.

According to Green Criminologists this case study represents the limitations of existing laws designed to protect the environment -basically existing laws are too anthropocentric (human centered) and fail to adequately protect the environment; it also points to the limitations of traditional criminology – which would limit itself to focusing on the protesters, rather than the company and council who are the ‘real criminals’ for harming the environment.

(*at least one assumes this must be the case, because even thought public money is being spent here, the public has no right to see details of PFI contracts)



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