England's Tree of the Year 2017

2017 Tree of the Year winner - the Gilwell Oak

These ten trees were the finalists in England's Tree of the Year 2017, the annual search for the nation's best loved tree. The 2017 winner was the Gilwell Oak.

Read more about our shortlisted trees below

Meavy Royal Oak, nr. Yelverton, Dartmoor

Local legend has it that King Charles hid here. But whether the cavernous trunk of this magnificent oak ever really offered refuge to a king on the run, that’s not where its merit really lies. For close to 1,000 years it has weathered the seasons in the heart of Meavy and served villagers on both spiritual and practical levels. People gathered beneath its boughs to hear preachers before the church of St Peter’s was built; a stone cross later erected to consecrate it in the 1400s.

It was used as a peat store by the local publican. But perhaps more inventively another landlady of the same pub – its namesake The Royal oak – created a snug, if not bijou dining experience for nine guests within its hollow. Other stories attached to this tree tell of dancing festivals and platforms erected on top of the clipped back crown to host a table for feasting. 

Meavy Oak (Photo:WTML/ Julian Hight)

The Witch’s Broom Tree, Abinger Roughs, Dorking, Surrey

Just a glance explains why locals gave this old beech the moniker of ‘Witch’s Broom’, with its stubby shape and thicket of twisted branches. Take a closer look and part of the trunk has become so gnarled it resembles a human skull.

Estimated to be 200-300 years old, this veteran has drawn generations of children to clamber and hide amongst its branches. A honey pot for bees too according to those who remember playing in it as children many summers ago.

Two theories compete to explain its quirky shape and nine metre girth. One being simple genetics and the other that it may have been ‘bundle planted’, an old woodland practice of planting several seeds or saplings together to yield many small stems for ease of harvesting.

Witch's Broom Tree (Photo: WTML/ John Miller)

The Gilwell Oak, Epping, Essex

The Gilwell Oak is synonymous with scouting. It sits at the heart of Gilwell Park in Epping, the home of the scouting movement conceived by Robert Baden Powell. The towering oak was adopted by Powell 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.

Gilwell Park has trained leaders and scouts across the years. It’s where today volunteers wishing to lead scouting groups across the UK undertake the Woodbadge Course, so named for the wooden beads given to participants carved from windfall branches of the Gilwell Oak.

It has too a more chequered past. Less wholesome and well-intentioned adventurers once mingled amongst the oaks at Gilwell. Notorious highwayman Dick Turpin and his gang prowled these parts making use of the tree cover to prey on stagecoaches between Waltham Abbey and London.

Gilwell Oak (Photo: WTML/ Martyn MIlner)

Evelyn’s Mulberry, Deptford, London

With no certainty can anyone say how a mulberry tree came to be in a small patch of green space in Deptford. There’s a popular claim it was planted by Russian Czar Peter the Great 300 years ago or thereabouts, on a fleeting visit. Another, and arguably more likely, theory is that it originated from the gardens of diarist John Evelyn, a friend of Samuel Pepys.

It’s widely believed that King James I sent out hundreds of mulberry saplings to estate owners in the hope of founding a silk industry. It failed because he mistakenly brought in the black mulberry rather than white variety preferred by silk worms.

Evelyn’s Mulberry deserves its place in the top ten for remarkably surviving the industrialization of the area to help us imagine a time when gardens and fruit trees covered this patch of London. The tree is easy to spot in Sayes Court Park now as it’s surrounded by a fence. Though its unlikely many in Deptford will need these directions as its long been popular with locals come harvest time.

John Evelyns Mulberry Tree (Photo: WTML/ Martyn Smyth)

The Courageous Tree, Coniston, Cumbria

There’s no historical tale attached to this one, or lofty royal connection. This ash, split savagely in half most probably by a lightning strike half a century ago, overlooks Coniston and is a potent symbol of hope in the face of adversity. Just two inches thick in places with blackened and scorched bark, it’s dutifully acknowledged the seasons each year bursting back into full leaf to triple in height.

It was named as the Courageous Tree by Sue Bond as part of a competition to list Cumbria’s 50 best trees.

“Trees are often afforded accolades because of their size, colour, symmetry, beauty and overall grandeur,” said Sue in her nomination. “This tree is different. It is surviving against the odds. It possesses its own beauty and deserves recognition not just for what it has achieved, but for the lessons that it teaches. I will always think of it as The Courageous Tree.”

Since nominating her beloved Courageous Tree - which gave her so much inspiration in life - Sue Bond sadly died in January. Her husband Jeff is now continuing to represent Sue's nomination as a tribute to his late wife.

The Courageous Tree (Photo: WTML/ Cumbrias Top 50 Trees)

Crowhurst Yew, nr. Hastings, East Sussex

The trunk of the Crowhurst yew is split, which makes her very difficult to date, but she is potentially the oldest yew in Sussex. It is believed the yew was here in 1066 when William the Conqueror destroyed King Harold’s manor of Crowhurst.

Hope Muntz’s 1948 novel The Golden Warrior, which is all about Harold, describes how his reeve was hanged from the yew for refusing to reveal where his master’s treasure was hidden. It has also been claimed that the invading Normans also made some of their bows from the wood of the tree.

By 1680 the base was considerable and was measured at thirty-three feet. In 1833 a local guidebook thought the yew was on her last legs, but was happily wrong. At the start of the twentieth century (1909) she was railed in by the local squire and this incident was woven into a 2016 Sherlock Holmes story.

Down the years some distinguished persons and group s have received young yews grown from her seed. These include the writer, Rudyard Kipling, King George V and the Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

Crowhurst Yew (Photo: WTML/ Julian Hight)

Parliament Oak, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

According to the venerable website ‘Nottinghamshire History’, King John, while hunting in the forest, was informed by a messenger of a revolt of the Welsh, and of an insurrection in the north of England; that he hastily summoned a parliament to meet under this tree, and that it owes its name to that incident.

It has also been suggested that it’s more likely that the tree was named after the more famous and important parliament of Edward I in 1290.

Now in the care of the Sherwood Forest Trust, the tree, although in the shadow of its more famous neighbour the Major Oak, is still thought to be over 1,000 years old and as equally valuable in its own right.

Parliament Oak in 1870 (Photo: WTML/ Nottingham City Council)

Scotney Castle Hornbeam, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

The hornbeam at the National Trust’s Scotney Castle was planted as part of a wood pasture around the 1400s and it forms a major part in the historical, ecological, and cultural part of the Scotney Estate

As the land around it was historically grazed by animals, and still is today, the tree has been managed as a pollard rather than a coppice. The hornbeam would have been harvested on an annual basis with the stems being removed at around 8ft, bundled up as faggots, and then used by the local community as household fuel.

Once the stems had been removed the tree would be left to allow any new growth to develop and then it would be re-pollarded the following year for more firewood.

Legend has it a tonic made from hornbeam was said to relieve tiredness and exhaustion, and its leaves were used to stop bleeding and heal wounds.

Scotney Castle Hornbeam (Photo: WTML/ Tim Gear)

Derriford’s Plymouth Pear, Devon

One of the UK's rarest trees, the Plymouth Pear gets its name from the area it was originally found growing in 1870. It can now be found in areas of Western Europe but in the UK is currently thought to survive in just two wild hedgerows in Plymouth and Truro. Originally it may have been a widespread component of mixed deciduous woodlands. 

It is a bit of an ugly duckling in the tree world, small and scrubby for most of the time but absolutely beautiful when covered with its pure white flowers in spring.

No one is sure whether this species is native to the UK. The Plymouth and Truro trees could be ancient local inhabitants, dating back before the English Channel appeared, or more recent immigrants whose seeds were brought here by birds. 

 Another theory is that they could have been introduced much more recently by humans since populations in north-west France live mainly in ancient woodland, whereas the UK trees live in suburban habitats. 

Plymouth Pear (Photo: WTML/ Julian Hight)

Stratton Strawless Cedar, East Anglia

This tree is iconic for what is represents, as it is thought to have been planted by Robert Marsham, Britain's first phenologist who recorded his 'Indications of Spring' between 1736 and his death in 1797. 

Marsham recorded these indications on his estate at Stratton Strawless throughout his life and is said to have been given two cypress trees by his friend and fellow landowner Jack Berney. Planted in 1747 as an 18 inch sapling, Marsham measured its girth as 6ft 1 and a half inches in 1795. By 1907 it was about 80ft high and 16ft in girth and was last measured in 2000 with a height of 102ft and a girth of 22ft.

We’re now custodians of Marsham’s and all subsequent phenological records on our Nature’s Calendar survey. With over two million pieces of data, it helps scientists today understand the impacts of weather and climate change on flora and fauna throughout the UK.

Stratton Strawless Cedar Tree (Photo: WTML/ David Woodcock)