Protestor Explains Why He is Living in a Tree in Battersea

Marcus Carambola continuing to teach music and theatre from his perch

Marcus Carambola, 32, in the tree in York Gardens
Marcus Carambola, 32, in the tree in York Gardens. Battersea. Picture: Anthony Jarman

March 3, 2021

A man who has been living for more than a week in a tree in Battersea to save it from being cut down has spoken out about “dedicating” his life to protecting trees and how he manages to eat, go to the toilet and even work in them.

Marcus Carambola, 32, is a musician and teacher who climbed into a 100-year-old black poplar tree with two other protestors last Monday (February 22) to prevent it from being felled to make way for electric cables for a new housing development.

The tree is located in York Gardens, next to the Winstanley Estate, a 1960s housing development which is undergoing a redevelopment by Wandsworth Council. The tree, visible from all around the estate, was due for felling on 22 March to make way for the laying of a new electric cable. This is just the beginning of a planned redevelopment of the Winstanley and York Road estates by Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey, which means that 124 of 173 trees are marked to be chopped down, mostly large mature and semi-mature trees.

Local residents and XR Wandsworth members all say the cable could be diverted to spare the tree. ‘We need to get to a place where developers see mature trees the same way they see roads or listed buildings – as something they have to plan around rather than destroy,’ said XR Wandsworth member and local resident Joe Taylor.

Marcus told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that as soon as he heard the tree was going to be felled he quickly packed up his things and joined other tree protectors to scale the tree before the sun rose.

“We didn’t have very much notice,” he said.

“But from going to tree-protection camps lately I’d had a list of things that I needed to pack for such instances ready. When I heard the call out, I just followed the list and packed what I could, you know, a hammock, a pillow, a harness and warm clothes, and so forth.”

Protesters in a 100-year-old black polar tree in Battersea to save it from being cut down
Protesters in a 100-year-old black polar tree in Battersea to save it from being cut down

When asked about how he managed to get time off work, he said he was “privileged” to have “some flexibility” in his job.

“I mean, if you dedicate your life to protecting a tree, then it has all sorts of implications on your regular routine. You have to shift and have other people taking over your regular duties and all that stuff. So that was quite a bit of effort.”

However he said he was still able to continue with some of his work in the tree.

“With corona everything moved online and smartphones are pretty good with doing stuff. I’ve done some music teaching from up here and I’ve done some workshops that are run from up here, and as long as the battery lasts, that’s definitely doable.”

He said his students have found the experience “very interesting”.

“They’re young people, and most young people that I know are very in favour of trying to do anything to save the future for their lives, you know, so they’re supportive of these kinds of actions and a bit forgiving with the technicalities of the lesson not being the same.”

On living in a tree for the last week Marcus said: “Basically, everything takes much longer in a tree, four to five times longer.

“You have to just move more carefully. Everything is ideally attached somehow so that, in case it slips, it doesn’t fall, it just hangs on a rope or a line or something.

“The washing and sleeping and going to the toilet does happen in a similar fashion, but just slower and more mindful. It’s a bit easier as a man.”

He said he urinates in a bottle so as not to be a problem for the security teams below, and only empties it when he knows there is nobody underneath him.

“Everything else we just collect in bags in the bucket that we use and that works fairly well. So you just sort of adapt to the circumstances. It’s not rocket science,” he said.

Now he is just with one other protester, and he says there have been some difficulties with the security services patrolling the site, which resulted in a couple of days with the food supplies being cut off from being carried up the tree.

But he says “political pressure” meant this was soon relaxed.

“We’ve got huge community support here. You know, basically we’ve got groups of people down almost at all times,” he said.

In the past week a number of activists have visited the site as well as the actor Jason Flemyng, all trying to persuade the council to change their decision, especially after they found birds nesting in the tree.

He hopes that the longer he can stay in the tree, the more pressure builds on the council.

Jason Flemyng showing his support for the protestors
Jason Flemyng showing his support for the protestors

“Wandsworth Council has declared a climate emergency recently. So it is only in their own interest following course, and not cutting more trees. I mean, this is just the first one of 124 trees, I believe, in this one project that is due to be felled. And we just can’t have that.

“Of course, we are fighting for this one particular tree, but it is a representation very much of the crisis as a whole. You know, the mind-set of ‘build, build, build’ just does not factor in the incredible natural resources and the need for nature.”

He says he hopes his actions, and those of other activists, will increase pressure on politicians to pass the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, a private members’ bill introduced by the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas last year.

A spokesperson from Wandsworth Council said, “This site is needed to provide 136 new council homes for our residents on low incomes and in housing need, especially those currently living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.

“No-one wants to see mature trees lost but sometimes it’s sadly unavoidable, despite our best efforts in this case to find a suitable alternative solution. However as part of the regeneration scheme we are planting around 450 new trees around the estate and providing a new 2.5 hectare public park so that residents have newly created green outdoor space to enjoy.

“To ensure Wandsworth remains one of London’s leafiest and greenest boroughs we constantly plant new trees. Over the past three years we have planted more than 1,200 in our streets and parks and this winter planting season another 750 are being added.

“Overall we look after more than 50,000 trees in our streets and open spaces. We take these important responsibilities seriously and will only agree to a tree being lost if there is no alternative and only if a greater number are planted as replacements.”

A spokesperson from the Met Police added, “Police are aware of an ongoing protest on private property in York Gardens, Wandsworth in relation to the removal of a tree.

“Police have been called several times in relation to this incident and are monitoring the situation.

“At present, no police units have been deployed to this location.”

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter