Tree memorials turning historic Edinburgh parks into 'graveyards'

Jim Orr
Jim Orr is against public trees being made into memorials

Edinburgh residents have complained that some city parks now resemble graveyards because so many memorials are being placed on trees.

Hundreds of metal plaques have been appearing in places like Princes Street Gardens and The Meadows, sometimes accompanied by home-made displays.

The nameplates are installed through a scheme where donors contribute towards the planting and upkeep of trees.

The city council said it would carry out a review following complaints.

The Tree Time scheme is being run by Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust, in partnership with the council and Woodland Trust Scotland.

Under the pilot project, people can pay between £20 to £5,000. Larger donations allow people to sponsor an existing tree or pay for a new one to be planted.

A personalised, commemorative plaque is nailed on the tree in recognition of the donation.

Some families also add their own displays, often using rope to attach flowers, cards and personal keepsakes.

The Friends of The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links is an organisation which aims to help protect the historic park, which was founded in 1920. The majority of its committee members are opposed to the plaques on trees.

Convener Jim Orr said the practice should not be encouraged.

"It harms the trees and causes litter. The trees are there for everyone, not for individuals," he said.

The Meadows
Hundreds of plaques have been placed on trees in parks like The Meadows

Alistair Cant, who volunteers with the organisation, said he thought the metal memorial plaques should be removed.

"They are making the avenues of trees in the Meadows like a mausoleum," he said.

"The trees are public trees. The minute you put a plaque on it it feels like someone has slightly appropriated it... and I don't think it's appropriate.

"There's a growing proliferation. I'm sure the charity's aims are very worthy but I think they are not the right thing for a public tree and very busy public space."

Local resident Malcolm Webster, 72, said The Meadows was now "a bit sombre" because of the number of plaques.

"I don't want to feel like I'm in a graveyard when I'm walking through The Meadows," he said.

"Quite soon I will be looking at the cherry blossom, and I don't want to be looking at every tree with a plaque on it reminding me that somebody has died.

"If you go through a graveyard you know what to expect but I don't want to see that when I walk through The Meadows."

Tree memorial in Inverleith Park
Flowers, cards and keepsakes are tied to trees like this one in Inverleith Park with wire or rope

He added that he felt the home-made memorials attached to trees looked messy and cluttered.

Richard Darke, a spokesman for Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust, said it made about £50,000 a year from the scheme.

It started in June 2019 in Edinburgh, and has since expanded to the Lothians.

"The idea is they get to adopt a tree for 10 years and then we will ask them if they want to continue adopting it.

"The prices depend on the location and type of tree. For example, someone paid £5,000 for one in Princes Street Gardens."

He said it would be difficult to take down the plaques and offer donors their money back, as the money had already been spent on trees across Edinburgh.

Princes Street Gardens, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, were created in the 1820s following the draining of the Nor Loch and building of the city's New Town.

Homemade tree memorial in Princes Street Gardens
Homemade memorials, such as this one in Princes Street Gardens, can be left on trees for months

Mr Darke added: "Some people are delighted they can adopt a tree in a place they have a connection.

"It is a balance though and we do acknowledge that it's maybe reached its capacity now in The Meadows."

Pam Barnes, the convener of Friends of Inverleith Park, said people had different ways of remembering the dead.

"I think it can be a good thing they are willing to pay towards a plaque.

"However, if they then garland them, I think the council needs to explain to them it's not their own and it's still the council's property and can't be used as a memorial with anything extra.

"People need to be discouraged gently from doing it."

Inverleith Park
One of many plaques in Inverleith Park

Val Walker, City of Edinburgh Council's culture and communities convener, said the aim of the Tree Time initiative was to increase and maintain trees in the city.

"A part of this scheme allows residents to adopt a tree in order to commemorating a loved one's life, marking a child's birth, or celebrating a special anniversary or milestone.

"Adoption of an existing tree or contributing towards the cost of planting a new tree is marked with a personalised plaque."

She said the city's parks were spaces where people could remember those closest to them.

"However, we recognise that there is concern about the manner in which these plaques are attached to trees, and we'll be looking into this in further detail.

"We'll also be reviewing how we address other homemade memorial displays that appear in our parks.

"We're committed to making sure that everyone can enjoy our parks in a safe and respectful way."