Scottish Facts: The Act of Union beech trees

Mature beech trees create significant landscape features.

Mature beech trees create significant landscape features.

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Scotland is believed to have more ‘heritage trees’ - so-called because of their gargantuan size, age or association with cultural or historical events - than any other place on earth.

But arguably the most important set of trees in the nation can be found on the 4.2-mile walk up North Berwick Law in East Lothian, as they were planted in 1707 to commemorate the beginning of the Act of Union between Scotland and England.

On a clear day, the Act of Union trees on North Berwick Law can be seen from as far away as Fife. Image: TSPL

On a clear day, the Act of Union trees on North Berwick Law can be seen from as far away as Fife. Image: TSPL

The beech trees are the sole survivors of a woodland planted by Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Lord of North Berwick and one of the area’s biggest landowners. Sir Dalrymple was Lord President of the Court of Session and also one of the Scottish Commissioners of the Act of Union, tasked with negotiating the agreement with his English peers.

Today, less than five of the original celebratory batch of trees have stood the test of time to remain alive and standing, with most of the Laird’s original crop battered and destroyed by the changing seasons on the exposed ridge. In 2009, there were six of the tall trees in existence.

READ MORE: Sir Tom Devine’s history of Scotland and the Union perceptive but not perfect

Those that do cling on for the remainder of their lives have the honour of being amongst the oldest beech trees in Scotland. On average, Scottish beech trees live to be around 350 years old, and are famous for their green leaves in summer and yellowing-bronze shade in autumn.

Less than five of the 18th-century trees still remain on Berwick Law. Image: Vincent Mobile

Less than five of the 18th-century trees still remain on Berwick Law. Image: Vincent Mobile

Beechwood also happens to be very soft and knot-free, which has led to its use in furniture, rifle butts and walking aids in the past. The malleable nature of the bark has sparked concerns that visitors to the site may vandalise the trees by carving slogans into them, reducing their lifespan even further.

What’s evident, though, is that Dalrymple’s beeches are dying of old age. When they do eventually disappear, several other important Scottish beeches will remain, such as the Pollok Park Beech in Glasgow whose trunk is nearly 7 metres wide in places. Meikleour Beech Hedge, which runs close to the A93 road in Perth, holds the distinction of being the world’s tallest hedge and stands at 36.6 metres in height.

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