A sycamore laced with the shoes of jubilant students, a haunted oak bound in chains and a Hackney Plane facing the chop are just three of ten contenders for this year’s Tree of the Year title.
The Woodland Trust’s annual competition, now in its seventh year, throws the spotlight on the nation‘s best trees to help drive up interest in their value and protection. The contest, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, takes place across Britain, with Wales and Scotland also each to crown a winner (for the Scottish and Welsh competition and contenders, visit woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear and see editor’s notes).
Whittled down from hundreds of nominations sent in by the general public during lockdown, a shortlist of ten trees is now up for the public vote. By going online at woodlandtrust.org.uk people can choose their favourite and crown England’s Tree of the Year for 2020. Voting closes at noon on September 24.
The Shoe Tree – Heaton Park, NEWCASTLE
So-named as shoes thrown by students on completion of exams nestle in the branches. This sycamore laden with the memories of a city demonstrates the fashions of decades gone by.
Happy Man Tree – Hackney, LONDON
Currently earmarked for felling to make way for housing, this 150 year old plane has been nominated by parents and children who pass it on the school run. They say: ”It is vital in these times that we don’t lose a tree which plays a huge part in making the air cleaner for the community.”
The Chained Oak – Alton, STAFFORDSHIRE
Legend states that the Earl of Shrewsbury had the tree bound by chains as a curse stated that for every branch that fell, a member of the Earl’s family would die. The tree and its tale are the inspiration for the Hex ride at Alton Towers.
The Marylebone Elm – Westminster, LONDON
Standing at the top of Marylebone High Street, this 30 metre elm is one of the few to survive both the World War II bombing of the church now marked with a peace garden, but also Dutch Elm Disease that changed the landscape of the city. A symbol of survival, say its nominators.
The Wilmington Yew – Wilmington, SUSSEX
Growing among the graves, this enormous yew tree is more than 1,000 years old. Yew trees were used as symbols of immortality, and are commonly found in churchyards. Although highly poisonous, anti-cancer compounds are harvested from yew trees and used in modern medicine.
The Beltingham Yew – NORTHUMBERLAND
Said to be at least 900 years old, this yew stands in the north end of the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church in Beltingham, a tiny village near Hexham. It’s a famously sacred site as St Cuthbert’s body is said to have been hidden here whilst on its journey from Lindisfarne to Durham Cathedral to keep it from Viking raiders.
The Beech Tree in the Altar – Bayham Abbey, KENT
This tree needs to be seen to be appreciated. Growing out of the wall of the English Heritage abbey ruins behind the altar, it’s a visually stunning tree. It has survived many events, most notably the great storm of 1987 in which part of the tree was lost, but nothing of its grandeur.
The Crouch Oak – SURREY
Chosen, says its nominator, “because it’s simply old and Queen Elizabeth I is said to have picnicked under it.” This great oak served as a marker for the edge of Great Windsor Forest back in the day. In the early 19th century the tree was fenced off by the landowner, as local young women had been stripping bark from the oak in order to make love potions!
The Grantham Oak – Grantham, LINCOLNSHIRE
Plonked in a suburban street, this giant was here centuries before its neighbours. Last year its future looked doubtful due to groundworks near its roots. But thanks to a groundswell of support from the local council and campaigners, works have taken place to add a cordon and protective surface around the tree so it can outlive us all.
The Remedy Oak – DORSET
From a distance it’s difficult to appreciate the grandeur of the Remedy Oak, as it is covered in ivy and moss that helps it blend into the surrounding hedges. The entirely hollow tree gets its name from a legend that King Edward VI had touched the tree, and in doing so, conveyed healing powers upon it.
Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said:
“Easily overlooked and routinely undervalued, trees deserve their moment in the sun. This competition is a very simple way to demonstrate our appreciation of trees.
“We had more than double the number of trees nominated by members of the public this spring compared to past years. This is perhaps no surprise given that lockdown had so many of us slowing down and taking more note of nature on our doorsteps, a boost for our mental health and wellbeing.
“At a time when we’re fighting both a climate and nature crisis, it is undeniable that trees are needed now more than ever. They are nature’s most powerful weapon in this fight. This competition is a very simple way to show that people do care about trees, so please visit our website and vote for your favourite!”