A VERY YOUNG OAK recently came into our lives and it got me to thinking that I need to embrace my inner tree hugger!
That thought was reinforced this week after I ended up almost surgically pulling a tiny hawthorn from between the paving stones in our patio – it came out with roots intact and is now safely potted.
I think if everyone stopped to think for a moment, we all have a favourite tree, either from our past or our present.
My current favourite is a weeping beech that’s in our back garden – still too young to provide shade, but I’m hoping to watch our grandkids play underneath it in about 20 years or so, depending on our girls Ava (11) and Becca (8) of course!
So, our rescue missions involving the hawthorn (left), and the six inch oak, which was saved from being mowed along with this summer’s hay crop, seems like the perfect opportunity to write about the search for contestants in the Tree of the Year competition, and why it’s important to appreciate our trees.
Why be a tree hugger?
Celtic nations have always had a fascination with trees, embracing them into their spiritual and mythological beliefs, and in my newsprint days I’ve written about how even today, ‘fairy trees’ or ‘rag trees’ on the ancient Hill of Tara and in the Comeragh Mountains were being endangered by wish-makers’ habit of tying items to them.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Irish superstitions and traditions, including the belief that it’s bad luck to cut down a fairy hawthorn, you might like to click to read here to read an article I wrote last year.
Meanwhile, trees with historic value include the Brian Boru oak in Raheen Woods at Tuamgraney which is thought to been close to the headquarters of Ireland’s last high king while the Florence Court Yew in Fermanagh is said to be the mother of all Irish yews.
Trees in fantasy fiction
Fantasy fiction fans all over the world have become familiar with Co Antrim’s Dark Hedges (pic on left taken by Michael Cooper, used courtesy of the Woodland Trust) after they appeared in HBO’s TV adaptation of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones book series (I love both the books and the series!). They have become a major international tourist draw, thanks to their imposing stature.
Martin’s world of Westeros also features the Weirwood trees, which had faces carved into them by the Children of the Forest before the human invasion. In fact, it is the forests’ destruction that leads to war between the children and man with devastating consequences and the eventual construction of the Wall.
Of course, there are also JRR Tolkien’s Ents, also known as tree shepherds, whose role was to protect the forests of Middle Earth from orcs and other potential woodland destroyers – and it did not pay to make them angry!
Even Walt Disney Pictures has recognised the might of trees, with the imposing tree warriors battling alongside Angelina Jolie in the 2014 rethink on Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty’s traditionally wicked fairy, which became a major box office hit.
Tree of the Year
So, now that it’s obvious I like my trees I’d better get down to the matter in hand.
Ireland and the UK are enthusiastic participants in the annual European Tree of the Year competition, launched in 2011 “to highlight the significance of old trees in the natural and cultural heritage that deserves our care and protection”.
“Unlike other contests, the European Tree of the Year doesn’t focus on beauty, size or age but rather on the tree’s story and its connection to people. We are looking for trees that have become a part of the wider community,” the organisers say.
Earlier this year, the 2015 winner was Hungary’s Oldest Tree of Bátaszék is the sole survivor of a forest.
Ireland’s nominated tree was a beech planted from a seed in 1980 by Co Tipperary’s Paddy Keane, who has etched the initials of all his 12 grandchildren on the bark of this generation tree, while Northern Ireland nominated the Peace Tree, an oak in Belfast’s Woodvale Park, planted in 1919 to honour the First World War dead but forgotten until 2006 when its historic importance was recognised.
Now, the Woodland Trust wants people to nominate their top tree in Northern Ireland, (or elsewhere in the UK) by Friday July 29, with the most popular choice getting a £1,000 ‘Tree LC’ pamper package and all shortlisted trees with over 1,000 votes receiving £500 worth of care. For more information about the competition and to submit your nomination simply visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear. Think of it as giving your favourite tree the chance of enjoying an indulgent spa day!!
As the Woodland Trust’s Patrick Cregg points out, the north is lucky to have many “remarkable trees” so I’m looking forward to seeing which tree is chosen!
I’m hoping to have an update pretty soon about what’s the state of play south of the border.
If you fancy seeing some pretty cool photographs of impressive trees from all over the world just click here and to read about one of my favourite places to see deciduous trees check out here.
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