Artist evokes Sycamore Gap emotion after 50 creatives join Darwin Oak protest

“Vandalism” at the Sycamore Gap has shown the emotional impact of felling ancient trees, an artist has said, after he joined more than 50 creatives at a protest against the potential cutting down of a 550-year-old oak in Shropshire.

Artist Dan Llywelyn Hall, 43, told the PA news agency that painters, poets and photographers from across the country gathered on Sunday to create images of the Darwin Oak in Shrewsbury to protest over its potential felling.

The tree – named after naturalist Charles Darwin, who lived in the area – could be cut down to make way for the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road.

Dan Llywelyn Hall painting the Darwin Oak (Chris Warrender/PA)
Dan Llywelyn Hall painting the Darwin Oak (Chris Warrender/PA)

Defending the tree, Mr Hall, based in Llanfyllin in Powys, Wales, pointed to the public reaction to the “vandalism” at the Sycamore Gap – where police inquiries continue after a tree was felled overnight at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland in September.

“I think it just shows you how emotive the subject is at the moment,” he said.

“I think that we have to always remember that people do get very connected to these trees, which are part of our lives and the fabric of our world, which we walk around and see on a day-to-day basis.

“They become the focal points for generations who anchor deep and personal connections.”

He believes ancient trees like the one at Sycamore Gap and the Darwin Oak should be treated “like Unesco protected sites, not inconveniences”.

A petition to save the ancient Darwin Oak has garnered more than 91,000 signatures and celebrities such as Chris Packham and Bianca Jagger have endorsed the campaign.

Mr Hall said the artists’ protest on Sunday was “celebrating the beauty of the area and at the same time the artists are broadcasting this message to the world”.

The artist is known for being the youngest person to paint the late Queen and has exhibited his picture of the last surviving “Tommy” veteran of the First World War in the National Portrait Gallery.

He said he organised the artists’ protest to “make people aware of what will be lost”.

“Art is one of the best ways that you can do that in a very highly personalised way,” he said.

More than 50 people gathered to protest against the felling of the Darwin Oak (Chris Warrender/PA)
More than 50 people gathered to protest against the felling of the Darwin Oak (Chris Warrender/PA)

Plans for the bypass were approved by local councillors in late October.

Mr Hall said: “It seems to me absolutely ludicrous that we could be entertaining these kinds of developments in the age of climate emergency when we’re hearing at every twist and turn what great threat we’re in from lack of trees or natural environments.”

He has been involved in other campaigns against the felling of ancient trees.

The artist said the area, Shelton Rough, is “quite emotive” as Darwin grew up in the Shrewsbury and “this tree would have been part of his landscape”.

The Darwin Oak was painted and decorated (Chris Warrender/PA)
The Darwin Oak was painted and decorated (Chris Warrender/PA)

Rob McBride, the lead campaigner against the tree felling, said: “I felt the ghost of Darwin was floating around Shelton Rough, peering over the many shoulders of the talented artists.”

Earlier this month, Mr Hall painted and decorated the tree to highlight the danger it faces.

– An exhibition including drawings, paintings, ceramics, photography and poetry celebrating the Darwin Oak will take place at the Bear Steps Gallery from March 17-31 2024.