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Tree of the Year 2017 – the results are in!

December is always an exciting time for us here at the Trust. It’s when we announce who has won our Tree of the Year accolade. More than 14,500 votes were cast in a public vote to decide the four country winners and we are thrilled to reveal this year’s victors are:

England: The Gilwell Oak, Epping
Northern Ireland: The Erskine House Tree, Belfast
Scotland: The Big Tree, Kirkwall, Orkney
Wales: The Hollow Tree, Gnoll Country Park, Neath Port Talbot

As winners of our contest, which is generously supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the trees will benefit from a £1,000 tree care award. The money can be used to arrange a health check from an arboriculturalist, provide interpretation or educational materials or simply just hold a celebratory event in honour of the tree.

A panel of experts crowned the Gilwell Oak the overall UK winner meaning it will now go forward to the European Tree of the Year competition in early 2018.

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Our four winners are special - here are their stories:

Gilwell Oak, England

Nominated by Caroline Pantling, heritage service manager for the Scout Association, the Gilwell Oak is synonymous with Scouting. It sits at the heart of Gilwell Park in Epping, the home of the movement conceived by Robert Baden-Powell. He adopted the towering oak as a neat analogy in 1929 for not only the growth of the scouting movement worldwide, which began with a small trial camp some 21 years earlier, but as a message to young Scouts that big things are possible from modest starts.

UK and England Tree of the Year the Gilwell Oak (Photo: WTML)
UK and England Tree of the Year the Gilwell Oak (Photo: WTML)

From 1919 Baden-Powell and his contemporaries devised and delivered some of the first adult leader training courses under the branches of the Gilwell Oak. These courses were designed to help volunteers develop their leadership and youth work skills. Today the leadership training undertaken by the world’s 10 million volunteer Scout Leaders helps the world’s 40 million Scouts develop their leadership, planning, teamwork and resilience skills.

“Scouting is all about helping young people develop skills for life. The Gilwell Oak has been the backdrop to hundreds of courses in which thousands of volunteer leaders have been inspired and motivated to change young people’s lives in the UK and across the world. It’s the unbending symbol of Scouting’s desire to change the world for the better.” - Bear Grylls, chief scout

Erskine House Tree, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s winner, the much-loved Erskine House Tree, is sandwiched between Queen’s University Belfast and Belfast City Hospital and is a descendent of the famous Greek ‘Plane Tree of Kos’, under whose shade Hippocrates, the father of medicine, taught in 500 BC. In the 1960s a young Greek doctor, Dimitrios Oreopoulos, undertook kidney research at Queen’s University and Belfast City Hospital, later gaining worldwide fame for developing a form of kidney dialysis.

In appreciation of his time here, Dimitrios presented seeds from the Plane Tree of Kos for planting in the hospital grounds. Only one – the Erskine House Tree – flourished and survived and is, today, an oasis of calm and a symbol of hope for patients, staff and students.

Erskine House Tree - Winner in Northern Ireland (Photo: WTML)
Erskine House Tree - Winner in Northern Ireland (Photo: WTML)

It was nominated by Dr Gerry Gormley, clinical senior lecturer, and Professor Peter Maxwell, clinical professor from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, and Dr James Douglas, former nephrologist at Belfast City Hospital. TV presenter and patron of Northern Ireland’s Kidney Patients’ Association, Eamonn Holmes lent the campaign his support.

“The Erskine House tree means many different things to many different people throughout the world, especially the transplant family. I am delighted that the tree has received this prestigious accolade and will forever remain a symbol of ‘the gift of life’ and a representation of our brave organ donors.” - Eamonn Holmes, presenter

The Big Tree, Scotland

The Big Tree in Kirkwall, Orkney, was put forward separately by Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council and local taxi driver Andrew Richards of Harbour Taxis.

This 200-year-old sycamore is a well-known and much-loved landmark in Kirkwall, used as a meeting place by generations of Orcadians. It could only be regarded as 'big' by somewhere not known for having many trees!

The Big Tree - Scotland's Tree of the Year (Photo: WTML)
The Big Tree - Scotland's Tree of the Year (Photo: WTML)

The Big Tree originally stood with two others in the grounds of a grand house. In the 1870s a new owner felled two trees causing public outcry which saved the third. As Kirkwall grew around it the Big Tree eventually found itself in a street rather than a garden. In more recent years a public outcry once again saved the Big Tree when the council decided to remove it. In a challenging location, and its hollowed out trunk supported by a metal rod, the Big Tree nevertheless continues to find a special place in the hearts of Orcadians who have twice battled to save it.

The Hollow Tree, Wales

The Hollow Tree is a popular feature of the Gnoll Estate Country Park, which was once owned and lived on by a wealthy industrial family called the Mackworths. Today the estate, in Neath Port Talbot, has been developed into a country park surrounded by a beautiful 18th Century landscaped garden, open green spaces and wild woodlands. The ancient oak, which was nominated by local resident Lorraine Surringer, has been completely hollow since at least the 1950s. It has recently been fitted with bars to support the structure. The tree has managed to survive in this condition and each summer produces a full and healthy crop of leaves and acorns.

The Hollow Tree - Wales' Tree of the Year Winner (Photo: WTML)
The Hollow Tree - Wales' Tree of the Year Winner (Photo: WTML)

Generations of children have played imaginatively in this magical, mystical tree. Ask any local grandparent what it means to them and they will tell you of their warm childhood memories of this tree and how their own children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have played in it too. 

Woods are calling for better protection.

Please help us protect them

Our competition aims to highlight and celebrate our country’s remarkable trees, and to ultimately ensure they are given the recognition and protection they deserve. The passion shown by the people who nominated trees, and the way the public get behind them in the voting process shows how much of an inspiration trees are to people.