‘Living legends’: Woodland Trust reveals tree of the year shortlist

·6 min read

An oak tree that is said to have inspired the Chronicles of Narnia is among those nominated for the Woodland Trust’s tree of the year competition.

The Kilbroney oak is located in Kilbroney Park, Northern Ireland, where CS Lewis holidayed as a child, later describing it as his vision of Narnia.

This mighty oak is on a shortlist of 12, which has been decided by tree experts from the Woodland Trust as well as members of the public. These trees have now been recorded for posterity on the charity’s ancient tree inventory (ATI).

Volunteers nominated hundreds of examples on their walks around the UK, sending images and information about the contenders to the trust.

While getting the public to vote for a favourite tree may seem like a bit of fun, the trust says the competition, which is now in its eighth year, is important because it highlights rare ancient and veteran trees, their role in fighting the climate crisis and biodiversity loss in the UK, and why protecting them is vital for the future of the planet.

Related: Study suggests existence of up to 2.1m ancient and veteran trees in England

Tom Reed, citizen science officer for the ATI and a judge in the competition, said: “The enthusiasm for ancient and veteran trees and the growing number of records being submitted to the ATI in the past couple of years showed just how much people love and value their trees.

“We selected the trees based on their size and significance for their species and also looked for trees steeped in history as well as trees that had high ecological, aesthetic or cultural value. It’s over to the public to pick a favourite from that impressive list.”

It is important to record ancient trees when they are found, as we do not know how many there are. A study by the University of Nottingham said there could be 1.7m to 2.1m ancient and veteran trees in England, of which only 115,000 are on record. Most of these are unlikely to be protected by policy or legislation, so it is impossible to know how many are at risk.

Adam Cormack, the Woodland Trust’s head of campaigning, said: “These trees have significant value. Yet very few have legal protection, which currently only comes in very specific circumstances, like if a tree happens to be located in a protected wildlife site. It’s protection by proxy rather than proper protected heritage status. After all, some of these trees are more than a thousand years old.

“We believe that now is the time to give these living legends the legal status they deserve. We all want to be able help to protect these wonderful old trees for centuries to come.”

Last year’s winner was the Kippford leaning tree, a hawthorn on the west coast of Scotland.

Voting via the Woodland Trust website closes at noon on 31 October. The winner will be announced on 4 November and will go on to represent the UK at the European tree of the year 2023.

The shortlist

1 The Escley oak, Herefordshire

It is not on any public records but for the past two yearsit has been one of the largest and oldest oaks on the ATI.

Location Along a public footpath north of Shobdon barn, Michaelchurch Escley.

Age Likely to be at least 400 to 500 years old.

2 The Flitton oak, Devon

This spectacular ancient oak splays out with eight enormous limbs dripping with moss and lichen – a haven for many species.

Location Set in a triangular copse of trees where three roads intersect in North Molton, near Flitton Oak Barns.

Age Estimated to be more than 700 years old.

3 Holly on the Hill, Hawnby, North Yorkshire

Unusually, this striking holly has a broad rounded crown, a clue that its canopy may have been harvested for many years.

Location Along a field boundary next to a public right of way that was an old bridle road on a first edition of the Ordnance Survey map (1860-1890).

Age Holly trees can live for 300 years. But while there is no certain lifespan for this specimen, its history suggests it could have been around since the late 19th century.

4 The Burnbanks oak, Haweswater, Cumbria

The tree’s form suggests it could be an old, coppiced tree that was managed for harvesting timber, or the remnant of an oak that has regrown after collapsing in the past.

Location A pocket of ancient woodland near Burnbanks, Haweswater.

Age Sessile oaks can live for more than 1,000 years

5 Hedgerow hawthorn, Colton, Cumbria

This stunning, twisted tree forms part of a small line of hawthorn trees that mark the site of a former land boundary.

Location: The tree in an open field on the edge of the Grizedale forest, north-east of Satterthwaite.

Age The land boundary is visible on a first edition OS map, so the tree likely to be between 170 and 200 years old.

6 The 12 Apostles lime, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

This is the largest of an avenue of 12 limes planted at St James churchyard to represent one of the 12 apostles. Historical sources suggest the original avenue may have been planted around 1770. Some of the original trees have been replaced, including five in 1929.

Location South-eastern path leading up to the churchyard in Chipping Campden.

Age Believed to be more than 250 years old.

7 Kilbroney oak, Kilbroney Park, County Down, Northern Ireland

The natural landscape of the Kilbroney estate is believed to have been the inspiration for the fantasy world in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Location Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor.

Age More than 300 years old.

8 The Portal tree, Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland

This striking rowan has bent over to form a full archway that now has growth sprouting from its top. Rowans feature heavily in folklore, but it is not known if this tree was deliberately trained into this shape or formed naturally.

Location Publicly accessible, it is located within the wider grounds of the ruined Mavisbank House.

Age: Estimated to have been planted between 1850 and 1880.

9 The Rolls of Monmouth oak, Monmouthshire, Wales

The largest tree on the Great Oaks golf course in the Rolls of Monmouth estate.

Location: Rolls of Monmouth, Monmouthshire.

Age Likely to be more than 500 years old.

10 Langley Park chestnut, Angus, Scotland

A sweet chestnut tree within the grounds of a Georgian mansion.

Location Langley Park house, Montrose Basin, Angus.

Age Unknown, but it is almost certainly as old, if not much older, than the original 18th century house.

11 Layering horse chestnut, Kedleston, Derbyshire

This magnificent tree has obviously suffered from trauma in the past, its trunk stands hollow and decaying while the branches have fallen to its sides. Despite this, the tree has survived.

Location Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.

Age The exact age is not known but horse chestnuts can live for up to 300 years.

12 Waverley Abbey yew, Farnham, Surrey

A spectacular yew, with roots that grow into and around the ruins of the very first monastery to founded in Britain 900 years ago by the Cistercian order.

Location: Within the ruins of Waverley Abbey.

Age: The exact age is not known but it cannot be more than 480 years old.