The Cowgate Sycamore…another victim of heartless corporate vandalism

With the political process having failed, and the Save Edinburgh Central Library campaign now left with no other option than to undertake legal proceedings against Edinburgh Council’s decision to award planning permission for this highly controversial proposed hotel, it would seem reasonable to assume, with the authority of the planning consent being challenged, that development could NOT proceed until this matter was settled in court; particularly so since the sale of associated public assets was on condition of planning consent.

However, the developer, Dreamvale Properties Limited (Jansons Property), disregarding the overwhelming opinion of local residents and political representatives, as well as the thousands who support the campaign through the on line 38 Degree petition ‘Let here Be Light in Edinburgh’s Old Town‘, has effectively ignored the legal challenge, commencing work on the contested gap site, adjoining the Central Library, formerly public property.

After a tip off, in which it was revealed that the Sycamore fronting the Cowgate on the gap site was in imminent threat of felling, direct action was taken to safeguard this precious tree; the only tree in the Cowgate, in one of Edinburgh’s most polluted streets, in breach of regulations.

This self seeded Sycamore, which miraculously had established itself right next to the pavement, growing around the railings and in defiance of all the pollution generated by the passing hustle and bustle, has dutifully kept watch for 40+ years, since the land was cleared as a gap site, thereby maximising natural light into the Library in accord with the Library’s intentional design, awaiting patiently for the Council to honour the legacy and aspirations of Carnegie regarding the future development of this, his finest gift to the nation, the Edinburgh Central Library.

Given this witness, it is as if the spirit of Carnegie himself resided in the limbs of this remarkable tree, which as it turned out were perfectly poised to house a platform in order to willingly support a tree occupation!

After an initial threat of eviction from the developer, the Sycamore seemed to offer a solution by allowing the opportunity to relocate the platform to another position higher up the tree, overlooking the public pavement and road, thereby naturally challenging the claim by the developer of being on so called ‘private property’.

In response to this spirited action, in spite of all the previous efforts in attempting to raise awareness of the campaign, the media at last took up the story, shining some light on the matter, yet drawing little attention to the insult to the Central Library and the legacy and aspirations of its founder.


Media Articles:



Seven days into the tree occupation, following a court summons and the threat of criminal prosecution, within moments of Sheriff Kenneth McGowan’s decision concluding the hearing in favour of the developer, the tree was tragically torn down in spite of an emotional appeal to the Sheriff to spare the tree until such time as the matter of the legal case challenging the Council’s decision to award planning permission was settled.

More tragically still, the wood from the tree had originally been offered to the Grassmarket Community Project to be used for craft purposes. However, the tree was so crudely hacked down its use was diminished.


In an email to the local Grassmarket Residents’ Association one notable onlooker wrote:

“I know that this is a minor point, but the level of vandalism meted out on the tree was outrageous, disproportionate and showed a level of violence and vindictiveness that I have rarely witnessed before. It was a crime against Nature, notwithstanding everything else. With the Police colluding it all felt deeply unsettling”.


When the last tree is cut… and the last stream poisoned, you will realise, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money…



For the sake of the miraculous tree, the remarkable legacy of Carnegie, and the community of this ancient neighbourhood at the heart of the nation, the campaign continues…



Here’s to a 2nd Age of Enlightenment in which the four guiding words of the Enlightenment inscribed on the Scottish Parliament mace are at last honoured by all: The People, politicians, and most particularly of all, corporations, developers and financial speculators.


Wisdom – Justice – Compassion – Integrity

Future generations may then be spared of the ultimate shame of felling the last tree to satiate the madness of a morally bankrupt system in which endless economic growth on a finite planet plots a course towards ecological Armageddon…


Ann Thomae

Up the tree!

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