Vernon Oak Rescue

by Jessica Upton and friends

Vernon Oak Rescue

by Jessica Upton and friends
Jessica Upton and friends
Case Owner
"I live & work in Oxford & have raised my family here. Protection of our environment locally & globally is something I fight for. The Vernon Oak is one tree, but the threat is to thousands of others."
on 22nd July 2021
pledged of £8,000 stretch target from 120 pledges
Jessica Upton and friends
Case Owner
"I live & work in Oxford & have raised my family here. Protection of our environment locally & globally is something I fight for. The Vernon Oak is one tree, but the threat is to thousands of others."

Latest: Oct. 8, 2021

The end of the road

Once again Jessica's efforts have been unsuccessful. This is a huge disappointment. The judge had nothing to say on the merits of Jessica's case but determined the matter entirely on the Coun…

Read more

Jessica says: "I can see no justification for the felling of this tree. I passionately believe that the default position for all developments should be to protect well established older trees. Saving this tree will send a message to developers of that. Saplings planted to ‘replace’ old trees simply don’t. The planet does not have the time for them to grow to do the same job. The Vernon Oak is just one tree but there are thousands of similar trees threatened by development, and those trees together make up a major carbon capture system. We need to protect them all NOW!"

And her friends say: Oxford City Council has said this protected tree, the Vernon Oak, can be felled. We say it is far too precious: it is beautiful. Oaks support more wildlife than any other UK native tree. They allow birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and fungi to flourish. The Vernon Oak brings a wealth of biodiversity to the city: it fuels and feeds wildlife in our urban environment. 

The Council says it is causing subsidence, but our expert geotechnical engineer says it's not. Why then are the Council allowing this? Because it's cheaper and easier to say "cut it down" than defend it.

Who are Jessica's friends? We are a coalition of local residents and the Oxford Canaries, who are local environmental campaigners. Together we are supporting our passionate and seasoned advocate for the environment, Jessica Upton.

Where is the Vernon Oak? It stands on Lathbury Road in Oxford. Walk down the street and you will not miss it. Find it here.

Case summary. Jessica has already started a Judicial Review case against the City Council. Both she and we say that the Council's decision was wrong: a decision that ignored the facts and was irrational. It was a decision that no reasonable Council, acting reasonably, should have taken. It now needs to be corrected.

Call to action. Although funding this court case is important - please do support Jessica generously! - we also wish to share our message far and wide. You cannot replace a mature tree with a sapling and achieve the same carbon capture. So please share this page with your friends now and help to plant a legal eco-precedent! Please help the Vernon Oak make law. The Council's decision must be quashed.

What are we trying to achieve? The Vernon Oak is a major contributor to the city's green environment. We would love our children and theirs to be able to see it and enjoy it. But if this case sets a precedent, then it may influence the future of thousands of other trees that get in the way of development. It is brown land that should be developed, not green land.

What is the next step in the case? Jessica is at the first stage of the Judicial Review process. It is the permission stage. Pleadings have been served. The next stage is to present the case that the felling order should be cancelled and the original Tree Preservation Order be restored. Please help Jessica win her case - let's stand by our beautiful trees.

How much are we raising and why? We need £10,000 to cover the legal costs for this first stage. Please help us raise that amount now.

Thanks so much for visiting. Please stay in touch. And thank you for your pledge.


Local demonstrators have tea – and save the tree.

Oxford Mail:

Daily Mail:

The Times:

Get updates about this case

Subscribe to receive email updates from the case owner on the latest news about the case.

Recent contributions

Be a promoter

Your share on Facebook could raise £26 for the case

I'll share on Facebook
Update 8

Jessica Upton and friends

Oct. 8, 2021

The end of the road

Once again Jessica's efforts have been unsuccessful. This is a huge disappointment. The judge had nothing to say on the merits of Jessica's case but determined the matter entirely on the Council's decision process. Apparently the Council had no duty to consider whether or not the tree was causing damage, it only had to consider the possibility that it might be doing so, no matter that there was no evidence to support that assertion. The threshold needed to find that the Council had behaved unreasonably is clearly much higher than the Vernon Oak.  The tree, it appears, is irrelevant. 

Our compliments to the Environmental Law Foundation and to the barrister Kimberley Ziya of Landmark Chambers who presented Jessica's case with great skill and conviction.

It looks as though this is the end of the road for the Vernon Oak. Thank you all for joining Jessica in trying to save it.

Update 7

Jessica Upton and friends

Oct. 5, 2021

Jessica will be in the high Court tomorrow.

The application for the Judicial Review to proceed will be heard in the High Court in London tomorrow, 6 October 2021, at 2.0pm.  Deputy Judge Tim Smith, who is a solicitor judge and a leading expert on planning issues will be sitting. Jessica will be represented by Kimberley Ziya of Landmark Charmbers, supported by the Environmental Law Foundation. Unfortunately there is no live link to the hearing.

Fingers crossed!

Update 6

Jessica Upton and friends

Sept. 24, 2021

Another shockingly bad result

Alas we did not do well at the interim hearing. The judge decided for the interested parties and consented to the near complete felling of the tree. It may now lawfully be cut down to within 5m of the ground. We are told that a judge has complete discretion to choose between one expert’s opinion and another, and there is effectively nothing that can be done when such a choice is made. The procedure does not allow any cross-examination of experts and no consideration was given during the hearing to the facts that supported our expert’s opinions. We have never heard of it being necessary to prune a tree down to a stump in order, allegedly, to make it safe. A big disappointment.

The case however is not over. The primary intention was to save this beautiful tree. But behind this was the - perhaps more important - secondary intention to correct the decision of Oxford City Council to allow the Vernon Oak to be felled. Our engineer's view is that despite the allegation that the tree has been causing building settlement, the data showed no evidence of this at all.

Local Authorities are fearful of insurance firms bringing claims for compensation when these applications are refused. Too often consents are given to fell important and healthy trees merely to avoid this risk. That, in our view is both unreasonable and unlawful. So, although the Vernon Oak may sadly perish on a developer's disputed evidence, we hope we shall be allowed to take this serious and important question forward to review.

Jessica's case is being supported pro bono by the Environmental Law Foundation. If the funds raised by this CrowdJustice campaign exceed her legal costs, then any remaining amount will be given to the Foundation, which is a charity. However, the risk of a very expensive adverse costs order has to be considered, and that is why your support for this cause is so important and so valued. Thank you for what you have done already.

Update 5

Jessica Upton and friends

Sept. 22, 2021

The Interested Parties are now challenging the injuction

In 2006, in an earlier attempt to have the Vernon Oak felled, Graham Clarkson and Harriet Green engaged an arboriculturist to say that the Vernon Oak had "less than normal vitality". He then said the tree would be dead within 10 years. Removing the tree opened a way onto the land so that five luxury houses could be built covering over this "green lung" in the heart of the city. The application was thrown out and the tree has ever since shown strong, healthy growth.

After all these years, those arguments have now been rasied again. A different arboriculturist now says that the tree is "certain" to fail this autumn. So Jessica has engaged an internationally recognised arboriculturist, Julian Forbes-Laird, to assess the evidence. Julian says that the Vernon Oak is "in satisfactory physiological condition, with no impairment to growth and vitality".

No-one wishes to object to the tree being pruned conservatively to maintain its appearance and safety - it is after all an urban tree. But this application appears designed to disfigure the tree to such an extent that little more than a stump will remain. This gross depletion of the canopy will ensure that the tree will have no remaining amenity or habitat value. Its felling would then be inevitable for the City Council would have no reason to protect it. The Council will be off the hook.

Tomorrow, Thursday 23 September 2021,  the two competing arboricultural arguments are to be determined by the High Court. Jessica is being represented by Kimberly Ziya of Landmark Chambers. 

The case will be heard remotely using MS Teams. It is a public hearing and Jessica encourages her supporters and ambassadors to join. Find the time of the hearing here

To get a link email and quote the case number CO/2032/2021 Upton v Oxford City Council etc.

Thanks again for your invaluable support. 

We have increased our financial target from £5,000 to £8,000 today to cover the cost of defending this application.That is tough but if we do not defend it, the Vernon Oak will not survive. This handsome tree now depends on the willingness of altriuistic and generous environmentalists like you in order to survive. So, if you can help the Vernon Oak a little bit more please do so, and thank you!

Update 4

Jessica Upton and friends

Sept. 2, 2021

Jessica secures a protective injunction.

More good news.  On the Friday before the August bank holiday, two-day parking bay suspension notices went up in Lathbury Road. Our suspicion was that Harriet Green and Graham Clarkson were planning to erect scaffolding so that they could fell the tree ahead of the Judicial Review hearing - without any hindrance from demonstrators. 

At seven o'clock on Wednesday 1st September, the morning before the permitted closure day, Nicholsons (a landscape contractor), arrived to erect fencing unlawfully - but too late! Before the site could be secured, neighbours and XR friends rushed out and populated the footpath. Once again the demonstrators were exercising their ancient right to "pass and repass along the way" and to "stop to rest and admire the view". A furious Graham Clarkson hit one of the peaceful demonstrators and tried to grab his phone. The police were called and arrived in force. It was soon decided that the contractors had no power to expel the law-abiding demonstrators, as none of them was obstructing the highway. Work was prevented and another day's reprieve was won. However, stronger protection was needed, so Jessica turned to the law.

Putting the notices up on that Friday meant that Jessica had to find a barrister who could prepare an application for "interim relief" over the bank holiday week-end.  This is how Kimberley Ziya, a barrister at Landmark Chambers, framed the application:

This is an application for judicial review of the Council's decision to grant consent to the felling of a protected oak tree on Lathbury Road, Oxford.  The hearing of the Claimant's renewed application for permission to apply for judicial review has been listed for 6th October 2021. Despite this, plans appear to have been put in place on Friday 27th August 2021 for the tree to be felled over the course of Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd September 2021. Such action would wholly undermine the purpose of the present proceedings and render the oral renewal hearing in October futile.

On 1 September, Judge Timothy Straker QC granted the injunction, preventing anyone from felling, maiming or in any other way injuring the tree and warning them that if the penal notice was not complied with, "you may be held in contempt of court and imprisoned or fined, or your assets seized". So, once again the Veron Oak is safe.

Your generous contributions have paid for the legal advice which secured the injunction; thank you!

Update 3

Jessica Upton and friends

Aug. 29, 2021

We are moving forward!

We are moving forward! The application for a review of the permission decision has been granted, with a hearing date on 6 October. This will be an oral hearing in front of a different judge. Jessica and her friends are cautiously optimistic about this, believing that her arguments have merit – with the facts wholly supporting those arguments.

However, on Friday, notices for the suspension of the parking bays near the Vernon Oak were posted in the street. The dates – undoubtedly the intended dates for another attempt to fell the tree – are Thursday 2 and Friday 3 September.

As a neighbour said: “Posting the notices is provocative and inequitable given that the decision is now being challenged”. Another friend of Jessica said: “Cynically and sadly, it’s no surprise that the notice has gone up just before a bank holiday”.

As you will have seen, we have reached the “stretch target” of £5,000. Heartfelt thanks everyone for contributing so generously. The fund is being left open for a while because, as yet, we don’t know which way it’s going; but it’s very good to have reached this target.

Update 2

Jessica Upton and friends

Aug. 13, 2021

A surprising and unwelcome result at the first stage.

Jessica’s application for Judicial Review has unfortunately been refused by HHJ Allan Gore QC.  However, legal advice is clear that this decision should be challenged. The judge said that the claim is about the merits of the Council's decision to allow the Vernon Oak to be felled. But as required, the challenge is against irrationality and procedural flaws in the Council's decision.

More particularly, the judge has refused to provide Jessica with costs protection under the Aarhus Convention rules despite the City Council’s agreement to this being an Aarhus claim, and this is worrying.

So an application for review of the decision is being made today.  Jessica is resolute despite the risks.  She is not a quitter.

Thank you very much for your continuing support. Now it is very much needed! 

Please pass this on and tell your friends.

Update 1

Jessica Upton and friends

July 22, 2021

We've reached our first target in two days! Thank you!

This is amazing. We've already covered the costs of the technical advice, the court fees and the barrister's advice, and we are now on the way to funding the next stage in the Judicial Review process.

Now that the case has gone live, Jessica wants to assure you of the responsible way this case is being run.  Firstly, before any legal step was taken, technical advice was obtained that highlighted the arbitrary and mistaken decision of the Council. The report made a careful analysis of all the facts before concluding that the Council had acted without justification.

Secondly, Jessica is being advised by the Environmental Law Foundation. The advice she has been given has been to the point and crucial. Representing Jessica in Court is Paul Powlesland who describes himself as a rights of nature barrister. His representations to the Court have been concise, fluent and precisely reasoned. 

Thirdly, ELF has engaged ShieldPay to provide transparent payment solutions. Your money will be looked after by them.  Everything will be properly accountable.

We know that you want this case to suceed, so may we give you some pointers on how you can get involved?

  • Email five of your friends that have the environment at heart asking them to pledge to Jessica's case
  • Post a link to Facebook saying you are supporting the case financially and asking your friends also to pledge
  • Tweet often in support with the hashtag #VernonOak.
  • And, please, pledge again!

Once again, thank you!

Get updates about this case

Subscribe to receive email updates from the case owner on the latest news about the case.

    There are no public comments on this case page.