Featherston’s Shaun O’Brien was making a stand on Monday perching in the oak set to be felled. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Tree lives to see another day
Emotions run high over fate of church’s oak
The controversial Featherston oak lives to see another day after protesters stood in the way of the company hired to cut it down.
But luck might not be on the tree’s side for long because protesters were later trespassed for two years from St Andrew’s Union Church land on Fox St, where the tree stands.
Emotions were running high on Monday morning as the large tree was scheduled to come down, with members of the public arriving on site as early as 5.30am to stall the felling.
Featherston resident Shaun O’Brien perched himself up in the tree with a ‘save our oak’ sign, while Claire Bleakley, who promised to chain herself to the trunk found the chain wasn’t long enough for the job.
Church members had earlier removed the Christmas decorations that protesters bestowed upon the tree on Sunday.
Treescape contractors turned up around 8am to fell the oak for Powerco, which was removing the tree at the request of the church.
Featherston councillor Colin Olds said it was an “extremely difficult” situation, with the church simply exercising “its lawful right”.
A few community members got hot-headed, dishing out uncouth remarks at congregation members and Treescape staff.
Olds said the behaviour displayed was “totally unacceptable”.
Long-time resident Rose Evans agreed, saying no one deserved to be abused.
She was married at the church and remembers the tree in 1969, when it resembled a “bush” – in her opinion, it was nothing special.
Police turned up to “keep the peace” after 9am and contractors left soon after, with trespass notices issued to four protesters a few hours later.
The oak survived the day, but St Andrew’s Union Church parish supervisor the Reverend Paul Rogers was blunt about its prospects.
“It’s going to come down, it’s just a matter of when.
“At this moment in time, the tree will come down unless things dramatically change.”
The church has decided to remove it because it is growing into the powerlines, and maintenance is too expensive for the congregation of about 10.
Tree consultant Richie Hill has offered to cover costs, but the offer was not taken up.
The church’s decision was also about keeping the community safe in high winds, as the congregation would be held accountable if there was an accident. But not all members wanted to see the tree gone.
“Many of the church people don’t want to see it come down but they feel like they have been given no choice,” Graeme Day said.
“It’s a magnificent tree, but it’s in the wrong place.”
Another churchgoer, Rex Thetford, said he did not want to see the oak felled if there was a solution on the table.
“It’s a gradual thing, losing trees one by one and all of a sudden you see the town bare.”