Appeal for funds to save Macbeth's Birnam oak

AN APPEAL has been launched to raise £100,000 to preserve the iconic Birnam oak, immortalised in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

The famous Birnam Oak immortalised in Shakespeare's Macbeth.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
The famous Birnam Oak immortalised in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Emergency surgery by leading tree surgeon Paul Hanson recently saved the gnarled landmark from splitting in two.

Now conservationists have mounted a new campaign to safeguard its long-term future.

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The medieval tree attracts thousands of visitors to the Perthshire town every year.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy an apparition tells Macbeth that he “shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him”.

But he is defeated after huge branches of trees in Birnam wood are used as camouflage by soldiers as they advance on the Scottish king.

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Surgery plan to save Macbeth's Birnam Oak

The iconic oak is thought to be one of only two survivors from the centuries-old medieval forest immortalised in the play.

The Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, which commissioned the initial restoration plan, needs to raise tens of thousands of pounds for further work.

A spokeswoman said: “Although the tree is now stable in the short-term, a further £100,000 of work is needed to ensure its long-term future.

“This work will include replacing the rotting props currently holding up the tree’s heavier branches, dealing with the soil compaction and drainage issues around the tree’s roots and protecting the soil around the tree from further floods.”

The soil was badly damaged when the woods flooded during Storm Desmond earlier this year.

The new appeal is a joint effort between the trust, the Friends of Birnam Oak and the Dunkeld and Birnam Tourist Association.

The main problem is that the trunk is hollow and it is being pulled apart by its heavy, ever-expanding branches.

The work, carried out in June, involved trimming back some of the tree’s branches.

“Biologically, the tree is in great shape and it looks absolutely terrific from a distance,” Mr Hanson said.

“Unfortunately, the structural timber has been eaten away. There’s a number of interesting fungi which is doing its best to eat it.

“The bigger it grows, there is a danger that its going to overload itself and collapse.

“It’s not just the fact that it’s hollow, the problem is the extent of decay combined with how much of the timber is missing.”

He said the hollow inside the trunk was about 13ft.

“But it has decayed further than that,” he said. “It’s almost like it is a giant mushroom, waiting to fall over.”

To make a donation to the appeal visit or write to Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, Pullar House, Kinnoull Street, Perth PH1 5GD.