Trees vs Billboards

Updates on The Green Forrest were very quiet during October, but I certainly hadn’t stopped following green-related stories and ideas. One issue that arose in early October was a very sad story about a group of about 45 trees that got “pruned” in order to allow for better visibility for some new billboards in Bryanston.

I heard about the issue first via @sandtontimes on Twitter – an unconfirmed report of the butchery of indigenous trees. I tried to find more info and got a vague address and that very afternoon after work I zooted over to the area to be met with a soul-destroying site. Loads of trees literally hacked to within an inch of their lives simply so the new billboard can be seen more clearly by traffic heading down Main Road in Bryanston. I walked around between what was left of the trees and just more and more furious.

Needless to say, I fired off a whole bunch of emails that night – to the local papers, to the Bryanston Sports Club (where the billboards are positioned), to the council, to the Out of Home Media Association, even to the Advertising Standards Authority to try to find out why and how this could have happened and who was responsible.

The ‘official’ info is that the boards are owned by Continental Media, and all the trees are on the property belonging to Bryanston Sports Club (even though their fence seems to exclude most of the trees). The involved parties refer to the butchering as the trees being “trimmed” or “pruned” and that it was all above board.

To date I have not seen or heard of a response from the council in terms of this issue – I’d be interested to see what they have to say. Some of my emails were returned and the Sandton Chronicle/Fourways Review ran with the story, with updates this past week (see PDF).

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Over and above what the articles mention, my issues with this incident are two fold:

Firstly the trees.

  • They’ve been there WAY longer than the billboard. I remember them being there from when I was at primary school and we used to visit the sports club to go to the Bryanston Library. Who are we to decide they’re “in the way”?
  • They are mostly indigenous so should be protected from a biodiversity perspective. (Had they been Eucalyptus or Pine trees I would not have objected so strongly)
  • We are constantly trying to encourage the planting of trees within our communities to green our communities and to contribute to our hideous carbon emissions. The action to cut these ones down without replacing them seems to fly in the face of current green behaviours.
  • The argument by the involved parties that the trees are just pruned and that now, the evidence of some green leaves on the few remaining branches or trunks means they’re going to survive, is just PR spin in my opinion. Even if the trees do recover, they will do what trees do – they will grow upright. And then? Are we going to see them pruned again next year when they start blocking the view of the billboard again? 

Secondly the advertising.

  • Is it REALLY necessary to have yet ANOTHER gigantic billboard in our suburbs? Our roads are drowning in billboards selling us stuff that we don’t need. The billboards and the advertising on them just promote the consumer-driven lives we all live, that in turn, directly affect the very planet we live on. Usually the destruction to our environment in the process of over-consumption is usually out of sight. This particular incident ironically makes the cause-and-effect very apparent. A clear case of “Screw the trees – buy this!”

I hope that the outdoor industry took note of the public response – there were loads of letters to the local newspapers – and think twice next time they want to put up another billboard. In all honesty I am secretly pleased to hear that advertisers are pulling their ads from that site due to the tree issue. You can’t expect to take out so many trees in such a public space – approved or not – without expecting a fall-out in this day and age.