Guest article by Campaigner Jo Blackman

Today is Earth Day, a day when people all over the world collectively call for the transformational change our world so desperately needs. Earth Day challenges us to hold governments, local councils and corporations to account for their role in the climate and environmental crises, while also helping to find bold and creative solutions.

One of the most important things we can do here in Shropshire right now is to object to our Council’s plans to build the extremely damaging and expensive North West “Relief” Road, on a route through beautiful countryside on the edge of Shrewsbury. By pushing ahead with this outdated “business as usual” model, the Council is failing to catch up with the challenges of the 21st century – the interlinked biodiversity and climate crises, and so is also failing to act responsibly for the wellbeing of Shropshire’s people and nature.

The construction of the road would require chopping down over a thousand medium or large trees including several that are centuries old, ripping out miles of hedgerows and destroying important wildlife habitats and precious green spaces – which have been a lifeline for many during the pandemic.

Before: A peaceful rural landscape

David Attenborough’s documentary Extinction: The Facts warned us that one million species are now threatened with extinction. Since 1970, vertebrate populations – birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – have declined by 60% globally.  This alarming trend applies equally to the UK, with local wildlife under threat, including bees and other pollinating insects essential for our food production. A mature oak alone can be home to over one thousand species and is simply irreplaceable.

These trees are also a vital part of our heritage – one tree due to be axed has been dubbed Darwin’s Oak by tree experts and is estimated to date back to the Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century.

Campaigners Rob and Karen by ‘Darwin’s Oak’. This ancient tree is believed to date back to the Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century (Photo: Treehunter, Rob McBride)

The other huge issue is the road’s impact on the accelerating climate crisis. A UN Report in 2019 gave the world a stark choice: “set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change”.  Sir David Attenborough has also warned that: “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”.  There are already millions of people worldwide whose lives have been seriously disrupted by climate breakdown and in Shropshire, many have been affected by the increased frequency and severity of flooding.

Shropshire Council itself admits that the road will have a ‘Significant Adverse’ Climate Change impact, with its construction causing at least an extra 70,000 tonnes of carbon emissions – equivalent to flying the entire population of Shrewsbury to New York and back (and this figure does not even take into account the carbon-absorption capacity that will be lost i.e. trees, hedgerows, pasture, soil).  The Council has no plan to compensate for the majority of these emissions.

We need to ask ourselves what is really important to us…  Potentially shaving 5 minutes off a trip to B&Q or increasing our children’s chances of inheriting an inhabitable planet?  The promise* of reducing commuter journey time or preserving our mature trees, woodland and wildlife for generations to come?

*There is no guarantee that journey times will actually be reduced. When a new road is built, new traffic will divert onto it. Many people may make new trips they would otherwise not make, and will travel longer distances just because of the presence of the new road. This well-known and long-established effect is known as ‘induced traffic’.

For many people, the pandemic has brought home what really matters: our health and well-being, our families and communities and connection with nature.  The Council needs to recognise this and instead of clinging onto this outmoded and disastrous road scheme, choose to invest in affordable and sustainable public transport with additional routes and frequent services; improved cycling and walking infrastructure; support for people to work from home and ensuring everyone has access to local facilities.

This is an invitation to mark Earth Day by adding your voice to the 2,000+ who have already objected to the planning application for the road.  The deadline is next Tuesday 27 April. Follow the links below for more information about the case against the road and about how to object.

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it”Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF

A watercolour by Jancis Vaughan of Darwin’s Oak from when crowds were allowed!

Joanna Blackman is clear in her call to action. Here at Mossy HQ we would love to hear what you think! Leave a comment on our social pages and share with friends and family who may be keen to support the protection of these ancient trees.

Caroline Talbot
Author: Caroline Talbot