A victory for common sense

Agent Jeff, ever vigilant as regular readers will know, recently stumbled across an article from 2008 in which we witness blatant discrimination against monkeys. Which we don’t like.

This happened in Swansea. The article says:

 For 150 years, the 50ft tall specimen (monkey puzzle tree) has stood near the seafront at West Cross but when plans for a primary school close to it were approved, Swansea Council officials said it should be cut down as its needles were “as sharp as syringes”.

But West Cross residents, led by mother-of-two Carol Crafer, mounted a campaign to save it from what they called “health and safety gone mad”.

The tree was even mentioned in Parliament by Gower MP Martin Caton who wanted to save it.

Even mentioned in parliament! Yes, indeed, this is Martin Caton’s motion (emphasis my own):

That this House is appalled that Liberal Democrat-led Swansea Council plans felling a beautiful, healthy and vigorous 150 year old monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of Llwynderw Primary School, in West Cross, Swansea; notes that this proposal, in a landscaping scheme for the school, comes weeks after both the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Education gave unequivocal assurances to local residents that the tree would be retained; is astonished that the recommendation to destroy the tree, on health and safety grounds, is based, in part, on the advice of a so-called expert who equated the danger to children posed by a monkey puzzle leaf to that of a discarded hypodermic syringe; and hopes that common sense will prevail and this marvellous landscape feature will be saved for the enjoyment of the children of the school and the people of that part of Swansea.

Agent Jeff has now found the tree on Google, these photos are from May 2012.

SA1, West Cross Avenue, Swansea.

Monkey puzzle, West Cross Avenue, Swansea.

So this tree appears to have been saved…. and sure enough I found an article on the Yorkshire Post (not sure why it would feature there as ‘local’ news for something happening in Swansea?), that tells me:

The saga of Swansea’s “dangerous” monkey puzzle tree finally came to an end yesterday – 21 August 2008 –  when it was saved from the axe.

A councillor has hailed a decision to save a 150-year-old monkey puzzle tree from the chop as “a victory for common sense”. The tree, in Swansea, south Wales, was threatened with being cut down because its spiky needles were deemed dangerous to pupils attending a new school being built nearby.

But councillors have now voted in favour of keeping the tree – as long as it has a fence around it. Swansea councillor Des Thomas, who campaigned for the tree to remain, said: “I think it’s a victory for common sense. I think the application to actually cut down the tree was a bit over the top. There are risks around us in everyday life and we’ve got to expose our children to a certain amount of risk. If a child pricks its finger on one of the fronds, it won’t do it again.”

Unmistakeable Araucaria spines.

Unmistakeable Araucaria spines.

If you’ve ever picked up a monkey puzzle ‘frond’ you’ll discover they’re not sharp – in fact I could name you at least half a dozen common plants and shrubs that are much more potentially  ‘dangerous’ to children – how about holly, nettles, brambles, blackthorn, yew trees (extremely poisonous if eaten, can be fatal to children), laburnum (the seed pods are poisonous)… and I could easily name many more.

But no-one’s going round saying we should remove yews from churchyards, or holly from graveyards, or blackthorn from our native hedges… so why the finger pointing at monkey puzzle trees? And this sense of ‘danger’ that children have in their natural environment is increasingly worrying. Jay Griffiths has written a book called Kith about how we disconnect children to their environments – Ronnie has written several posts about that – the first one is here.

Monkey puzzle trees might not be to everyone’s taste, but they are often local landmarks, and well-loved. The older ones are now mature specimens that enhance our environments, and deserve to be treated equally.

SA1 in background.

SA1 in background.

Also contained in the small-minded reporting from the original article (which is in the Daily Mail if you wish to find it for yourself), was a list of ‘facts’ about monkey puzzle trees. One of them is:

It is sometimes associated with bad luck.

No reference or validation of this fact is given. I think it’s blatant discrimination against things that look different.

So I would applaud Carol Crafer and her support of her local monkey. And am pleased to catalogue it as SA1.


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