Scotland's Tree of the Year shortlist revealed

A hawthorn planted nearly 500 years ago by Mary Queen of Scots and a stunted oak on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond are amongst the contenders vying to be crowned Scotland’s Tree of the Year 2020.

The two characterful trees are among five shortlisted for the competition, which has been running since 2014.

The finalists are the Climate Change Tree in Alloa, the Lord President’s Oak near Inverness, the Milarrochy Oak at Loch Lomond, Queen Mary’s Thorn in Fife and the Survivor Tree in the Borders.

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They beat off stiff competition from around 50 others from across the country which were nominated by members of the public.

The Climate Change Tree - nominated by Chris Knapman - is a remarkable sycamore situated at Gartmorn Dam, near Alloa, within a post-industrial landscape.

The winner will go on to compete for the prestigious title of European Tree of the Year.

Competition organisers say the coronavirus crisis has had a big impact on the nominations sent in this year, showing the important role nature has been playing in many people’s lives while restrictions on movements have been in place.

The competition is organised by the Woodland Trust conservation charity, with support from the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Woodland Trust Scotland director Carol Evans said: “We felt a definite lockdown effect in the competition this year, with twice the usual number of nominations.

The Milarrochy Oak - nominated separately by Gary Chittick and John Cuthbert - is tenacious little tree in a picturesque bay on Loch Lomond, near the village of Balmaha. It stands within Scotland’s first National Park and on the route of the famous West Highland Way.

“There was a common theme to a lot of the trees and their stories – of tenacity and hanging on against the odds.

“There were a handful of trees just outside the final five which had been discovered or were provoking particular affection during people’s daily walks.

“Everyone has taken solace from the nature on their doorstep, and it has been quite moving to see so many trees that became places to escape to, gyms and classrooms.

“Trees were there for us, as they always are when we need to boost our mental health and well-being.”

Queen Mary’s Thorn - nominated by Judy Dowling - grows inside St Mary’s Quad at the University of St Andrews and is almost certainly the oldest tree in the Fife town. Mary Queen of Scots visited the town regularly and is thought to have planted the thorn in the 1560s. That makes the tree not far off 500 years old - an exceptional age for a hawthorn. The tree is still growing well, with supports, and lots of aerial roots. It still flowers and fruits every year. The Quad is a very busy place and scholars from all over the world as well as many tourists pass the thorn every day. It is well-known and beloved by locals too. This favourite of town and gown is a truly venerable and exceptional tree.

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “The competition has unearthed some remarkable trees and demonstrates the strong ties and affection communities feel towards them, fostering a strong connection with nature.

“I am delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported this celebration of the nation’s best-loved trees.”

The winning tree will receive a care package worth £1,000, which can be spent on works to benefit its health, interpretation signage or community celebrations.

Online voting in the competition opens today and runs until 24 September.

The Survivor Tree - nominated by Fi Martynoga of Borders Forest Trust - was the inspiration for the trust's slogan “Where one tree survives, a million trees will grow". Two decades later, that lone rowan is surrounded by a little forest of its children. In addition to its own offspring, the rowan tree now has more than half a million other native Scottish trees for company. Where once it dominated the view, it will soon be hidden from sight. The rowan symbolises some of the first natural regeneration achieved in the Carrifran Valley and is a symbol of a 20-year journey to revive the wild heart of Southern Scotland.

Last year’s victor was the Last Ent of Affric, an ancient elm that has survived disease to remain as a lone sentinel in a remote Highland glen.

Before that, previous winners were: Netty’s Tree on the island of Eriskay in 2018; the Big Tree in Kirkwall, Orkney, in 2017; the Ding Dong tree in Prestonpans, East Lothian, in 2016; the Suffragette Oak in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park in 2015; Lady’s Tree, the 100-year-old Scots pine where Scotland’s most famous female osprey raised a record number of chicks, at Loch of the Lowes nature reserve in Perthshire, in 2014; and Niel Gow’s Oak, also in Perthshire, a 300-year old tree with links to the renowned Scottish fiddler and composer, in 2013.

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The Lord President’s Oak - nominated by Laura McNally of Forest and Land Scotland - has links to Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, who was Lord President of the Court of Session in the early 1700s. He would take his wife Mary to sit on a large stone and admire the view of the Moray Firth. The stone was moved to its present position in 1855 to make way for the Highland railway and it is thought the oak was planted at that time. The tree has grown into a magnificent specimen in its quirky location, guarding the bridge. It is on the path leading to St Mary’s Clootie Well, which played an important part in pagan celebration into the 20th century. The oak is known and loved by many who pass underneath it every day as they enjoy the grandeur of Culloden Forest, near Inverness.

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Joy Yates

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