Banksy mural: Do people care about trees more after seeing the new artwork?

Banksy mural: Do people care about trees more after seeing the new artwork?

British artist Banksy has confirmed that he is behind a new mural that has appeared on a building in London.

The artwork covers the wall of a four-storey building and shows a small figure holding a pressure hose beside a large cherry tree.

Green paint has been sprayed across the wall, replicating the absent leaves of the tree, which has been cropped in a severe instance of pollarding.

It was first spotted in the Finsbury Park neighbourhood, in north-east London, yesterday.

Banksy claimed the work by posting before and after photos of the location on his official Instagram account.

But what's the meaning behind it and will it make people care about trees more?

Does Banksy mural have an environmental message?

Many people who had come to see the mural thought it does have an environmental message.

The artwork first appeared on Sunday - St. Patrick’s Day, a major public holiday in Ireland which is associated with green.

“The tree looks very sad without branches and without greenery,” said Pura Lawler, on her way to a gym class. She felt Banksy was saying something about "destroying the forests, destroying the greenery.”

Deforestation is one of the most damaging practices for nature and the environment, robbing wildlife and ecosystems of vital sustenance and habitats.

Cristiana de Lia, a climate strategist, posted her interpretation online, calling the artwork "A perfect depiction of corporate #greenwashing."

Greenwashing is a type of marketing that makes products or activities seem more eco-friendly than they are. The EU is currently trying to crack down on greenwashing.

London street tree expert Paul Wood also thinks the artwork could be a comment on greenwashing, perhaps on a more local level.

“All councils have green initiatives and tree planting policies X, Y, and Z,” he tells Euronews Green, “But when push comes to shove, highways, new roads and more housing seem to trump any of the very commendable plans which they have to improve the environment.”

Why does the Banksy tree have no leaves?

The tree which the mural is painted behind has been pollarded. This is a method of pruning that keeps trees and shrubs smaller than they would naturally grow, according to RHS Gardening.

Pollarding is quite common in London and there are similar trees close to Banksy's work on Hornsey Road.

But the cherry tree Banksy chose to centre had its canopy “very, very badly removed” by somebody, says Wood.

“Had they decided to prune it at a different time of year [a practice best done in autumn or winter] we might be enjoying the full canopy of beautiful blossom right now.”

Pollarded trees on the road opposite Banksy's artwork.
Pollarded trees on the road opposite Banksy's artwork. - Euronews Green/Lottie Limb

Trees are, of course, vital to our ability to survive on planet Earth. They suck in carbon dioxide, making the air breathable, and are particularly vital in cities like London, where Banksy chose to place the work.

Trees help to keep cities cool, increasingly important given rapidly rising temperatures, with 2023 named as the hottest year since records began.

A local politician, Roulin Khondoker, said the borough was delighted that Banksy had chosen their area for his latest work, saying "we very much want the artwork to stay for people to enjoy... Trees are a vital part of our work to tackle the climate emergency. We’ve planted nearly 900 in the last year alone, and we work hard to care for our trees and help them to thrive."

Planting trees is important in many areas but the strategy is not without controversy, especially when tree planting schemes are used for money making.

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who represents the area in Parliament, said the work "makes people stop and think, ‘Hang on. We live in one world. We live in one environment. It is vulnerable and on the cusp of serious damage being done to it.’”

“Environmental politics is about densely populated urban areas like this, just as much as it is about farmland and woodland and hedges," he added.

Will the Banksy mural make people care about trees more?

We only look after the things we care about. So will the attention on Banksy's piece make people think more about trees and their importance?

Marketing consultant Luke Addis thinks so, saying, "This poignant piece, which features a tree against a backdrop of vibrant green splatters, provokes contemplation on nature, resilience, and human intervention."

An up-close view of the Banksy mural in Islington, London, 18 March 2024.
An up-close view of the Banksy mural in Islington, London, 18 March 2024. - Euronews Green/Lottie Limb

Who is Banksy?

Banksy, who has never confirmed his full identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world’s best-known artists.

His mischievous and often satirical images include two policemen kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces, and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words, “Laugh now, but one day I’ll be in charge.”

Banksy’s work has sold for millions of dollars at auction, and past murals on outdoor sites have often been stolen or removed by building owners soon after going up. In December, after Banksy stencilled military drones on a stop sign in south London, a man was photographed taking down the sign with bolt cutters. Police later arrested two men on suspicion of theft and criminal damage.

The latest work would be harder to take down since the piece relies on the tree for its impact.

Alex Georgiou, whose company owns the building, said “it’s quite mad to be honest, to come down here and just to see all the crowds of people looking at the building.”

“I definitely plan on keeping it on there and letting people enjoy it," he said. “Everyone’s loving it, which is great.”

Paul Wood suggests the pollarded tree would be very noticeable to someone getting the 91 bus down the Hornsey Road.

“It's quite a harrowing sight that tree,” he says, “The fact that Banksy wanted to colour it in, or put the canopy on the wall behind it, makes a lot of sense.”