THE results are in – the winning trees for England, Scotland and Wales have been announced in the Woodland Trust's Tree of the year 2020 contest.

A plane tree in Hackney, a lone rowan in the Borders, and a historic fern-leaved beech in Port Talbot have been named the winners.

Now in its seventh year, the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year is intended to showcase the UK’s favourite trees and help show their value and need for protection. It is supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, which gives a £1,000 care award to each of the winning trees.

Forestry Journal: The Happy Man Tree, Hackney.The Happy Man Tree, Hackney.

The Happy Man Tree is a street tree outside the now-demolished Happy Man pub in Woodberry Grove, just off Seven Sisters Road, in the borough of Hackney. Nominated by members of the public during the spring lockdown, it was last month decided that the tree will be felled before the end of the year to make way for redevelopment.

The 150-year-old tree came to prominence after the local community realised it was earmarked for removal as part of plans to redevelop the Woodberry Down estate. Objections were made, a website was created, artworks were installed, and a petition was set up to generate interest in the plight of the London plane tree, one of 33 mature trees to be felled.

Adam Cormack, head of campaigning for the Woodland Trust, said: “The local community has made a powerful case to retain the tree, adopting the slogan #noticethistree. We did notice, and so did thousands more. In too many places we see well-loved mature trees lost to development rather than designed into plans from the start. When this happens it’s a lose-lose situation. The tree itself is lost and people lose something that made their lives better.

“This is not a simple case of good and bad. The redevelopment is to provide important social housing and Hackney Borough Council has been doing some great work to increase green spaces including setting a borough-wide target to increase tree cover. But, given the developer’s own admission that this tree could have been retained if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process, we must call this out for being a poor decision. And, sadly, one we see too often. Efforts to create new homes and better places to live must start with protecting existing trees, and their avoidable loss must always be prevented. Planting new trees, while needed, will take years to have the same impact on absorbing carbon and cleaning air.”

Forestry Journal: The 150-year-old tree came to prominence after the local community realised it was earmarked for removal as part of plans to redevelop the Woodberry Down estate.The 150-year-old tree came to prominence after the local community realised it was earmarked for removal as part of plans to redevelop the Woodberry Down estate.

The group has repeatedly challenged the developer’s decision to frame the issue as a binary choice between housing and the tree, saying that most people in the area want both.

Noemi Menendez, a Woodberry Down resident who is part of the community efforts to save the tree, said: “Today is an important day for the campaigners of the Friends of the Happy Man Tree. We are over the moon to have won this award, and extremely grateful to everybody who voted for our tree.

“Needless to say, we have all been challenged and pushed outside of our comfort zones in the face of the COVID pandemic. Yet, this crisis has revealed new priorities in people’s lives. The message is clear, we need and want mature trees in our neighbourhoods.

“Planning with a heart will solve the problem we have faced during this campaign; it is a false argument that we only care for one tree and nothing else. We want the tree and the homes; they are both equally important. The Happy Man Tree protest has highlighted the value that mature trees have in a community, their cultural and social importance based on memories, aesthetic features, and the sense of wellbeing they bring. Keeping the Happy Man Tree would be a genuine gesture of acknowledgement of this.”

The tree is expected to be felled this year, but the Friends of the Happy Man Tree say they are still campaigning for it to be saved.

Adam concluded: “The legacy of this tree must be that the planning system, which is currently facing overhaul in England, should protect existing trees and local voices must be listened to when decisions on local trees and woods are made. Trees have a huge positive impact on people’s quality of life, but this needs reflecting in national planning policy and local decision-making.

“We only have to look to the example of this year’s Tree of the Year runner-up. The 500-year-old Grantham Oak was retained by 1940s planners when developing the market town of Grantham. The housing next to the tree was designed in a crescent to accommodate the canopy of the tree. So, it is maybe not a case of new thinking, but back to the old.”

Forestry Journal: The Survivor Tree, Carrifran Valley.The Survivor Tree, Carrifran Valley.

Scotland’s winner, the Survivor Tree, in Carrifran Valley in the Borders, became an important emblem for a restoration group fundraising to buy the land 20 years ago. "Where one tree survives, a million trees will grow," became their mission statement for the Millennium.

That mission has been accomplished and the once bare valley is now full of native trees. The lone Survivor is lonely no more and stands as a wonderful symbol of what can be achieved. Borders Forest Trust's Carrifran Wild Wood shows the way ahead in tackling the dual crises in climate and biodiversity.

Forestry Journal: The Chapter House Tree, Port Talbot.The Chapter House Tree, Port Talbot.

Wales’ winner, the Chapter House Tree, stands in the shadows of the 17th-century Margam Orangery and St Mary’s Church, in Port Talbot.

This historic fern-leaved beech envelopes the remains of one of the first Cistercian abbeys in Wales. Its canopy has provided shelter to visitors for many years – from Victorian tea parties taking place under its sweeping boughs to a favourite summer picnic spot for present-day visitors.

Will Humpington, advisor of climate change and environmental programmes at the People's Postcode Lottery, said: “I’m really pleased our players are supporting the Tree of the Year competitions, which continue to build a deeper connecter between people and the nature that’s around them.

“The stories behind this year’s winners demonstrate just how much people love trees, and the time and energy they are prepared to invest in protecting them. It shows people have special connections with some wonderful trees in all types of neighbourhoods, from remote valleys to city streets.”

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