Woodland Trust reveals Tree of the Year candidates
The Tree of The Year contest this year shines a spotlight on ancient trees in urban locations, with every shortlisted specimen able to be visited free of charge by the public.
‘Ancient trees in towns and cities are vital for the health of nature, people and planet,’ said Naomi Tilley, lead campaigner at the Woodland Trust. ‘They give thousands of urban wildlife species essential life support, boost the UK’s biodiversity and bring countless health and wellbeing benefits to communities.
‘But most ancient trees aren’t protected by law, and those in urban areas are particularly vulnerable, like one of this year’s nominees – which narrowly escaped being cut down by Sheffield City Council in 2017.’
The Woodland Trust’s panel of tree experts has shortlisted 12 fascinating urban contenders from across the UK for Tree of the Year 2023 – with one additional tree voted for by the public.
‘Trees like those in the shortlist are remarkable and deserve celebration – and protection,’ Naomi added. ‘YouGov polling shows 83% of people in Great Britain support giving ancient trees legally protected heritage status.
‘What is more, 85% of people think national government and its agencies should have responsibility for protecting them. The stats show just how much these trees mean to people.’
This year's contenders are located in city parks, busy town centres and residential streets.
Each one has an amazing story to tell and is loved by locals, as well as providing vital habitat for wildlife, helping to reduce flooding, screen out noise, provide shade, filter air pollution, increase property values and bring cultural capital to our streets and parks.
The winner will represent the UK in the European Tree of the Year competition.
Voting for the Woodland Trust’s 2023 Tree of the Year is open now until Sunday, 15 October at Tree of the Year - Woodland Trust
The Trust’s top trees
Greenwich Park sweet chestnut, London
Fact file: Approximate age: 360 years/Girth: 6.01 metres
This fantastic twisted sweet chestnut was planted at the request of King Charles II. After taking the throne in 1660, he announced a bold vision for Greenwich Park, known as 'The Grand Plan' and while the Palace of Greenwich was never rebuilt as intended, the ambitious redesign of the grounds can still be enjoyed today. Hundreds of trees were planted in formal avenues to mimic the French style Charles so admired and many of them are still standing. Now approaching 400 years old, their contorted, decomposing trunks offer important wildlife habitats including invertebrates and fungi.
Holm oak blitz tree, Exeter, Devon
Fact file: Approximate age: Unknown/Girth: 3.82 metres
This tree may not be ancient, but it has a remarkable history. On 4 May 1942, 20 bombers flew over Exeter in the dead of night and devastated the city in little more than an hour. Many buildings were destroyed. Among those suffering extensive damage was Southernhay United Reformed Church on Dix’s Field in the city centre, but this oak tree, mere feet from the front door, somehow survived. The tree is admired by locals for its resilience and seen as a symbol of hope and strength.
Cathedral foxglove tree, Lichfield, Staffordshire
Fact file: Approximate age: 100 years/Size: largest foxglove tree in the county
Lichfield’s stunning foxglove tree keeps silent vigil over visitors to the Remembrance Garden, opened in 1920 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the First World War. The nearby cathedral’s unusual three spires provide an awe-inspiring backdrop. A much loved landmark in the city, the tree is native to China, having been introduced to Britain in the 1830s, and shows off colourful foxglove shaped blooms in springtime.
Lakeside holm oak, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Fact file: Approximate age: likely around 175 years old/Girth: 5.00 metres
Leaning lazily over the lake at Jephson Gardens, this holm oak may date back to the 1840s. The newly created gardens were planted with holm oaks, a species well suited to urban areas for its ability to tolerate shade and air pollution. The tree has witnessed many events in the town park since then, including its heyday as a pleasure ground for wealthy Victorians and a period of post war decline. The local council carefully restored the park in the early 2000s.
Crouch Oak, Addlestone, Surrey
Fact file: Approximate age: 800 years/Girth: 7.30 metres
The Crouch Oak has accumulated many names and claims to fame over its eight centuries. This giant is also known as the Queen Elizabeth I picnic tree after the monarch was said to have dined beneath its great boughs. John Wycliff gave sermons under the tree in the 1800s, earning it the moniker Wycliff’s Oak, and popular Victorian Baptist, Charles Spurgeon, preached there in 1872, adding 'Speakers Corner' to the list of aliases. Over its long history, the tree has sadly suffered attacks, including arsonists setting the inside of the trunk ablaze in 2007. Thankfully fire crews were able to douse the flames and give this landmark tree chance to see another century or two yet.
Gorton Park poplar, Manchester
Fact file: Approximate age: Unknown/Girth: 4.07 metres
Another rare survivor, this black poplar tree is a reminder of Manchester’s industrial heritage. As manufacturing in the city boomed, soot and air pollutants from coal burning factories killed many of the city’s trees, but the black poplar was found to thrive despite the conditions. It was easy enough to grow too and became a familiar sight in the northwest in the 20th century – so much so the tree is also known as the Manchester poplar. But while the species tolerated pollution, disease has sadly proved fatal for most. Over the last 20 years, many black poplars have succumbed and this Gorton Park specimen is one of only a few thousand remaining.
Grantham Oak, Grantham, Lincolnshire
Fact file: Approximate age: Over 500 years old/Girth: 7.02 metres
Towering above a quiet residential street, Grantham’s oldest resident predates the surrounding houses by several centuries. The area has never been parkland, so this tree could be a chance survivor or a lone reminder of the agricultural land that Grantham’s streets now occupy. To give this ancient oak the care it deserves, the Trust has worked with the local council and residents to install a protective surface and barrier to keep the tree safe from harm. In 2023, cuttings were grafted onto rootstock from the Bowthorpe Oak, another local ancient oak. The resulting 23 saplings can be considered descendants of the Grantham Oak and will preserve the hardy genetic traits that have helped it live so long.
Chelsea Road elm, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Fact file: Approximate age: Estimated 128 years old/Girth: 2.80 metres
Unknowing passers by might not give this mature street tree a second glance, but it is one of the UK’s most famous elms. Fewer than 1000 elms still stand after Dutch elm disease sadly wiped out over 60 million of them, but this tree is fortunately resistant. This alone makes it special, but it is also home to the white letter hairstreak butterfly, a species that has declined 93% since the 1970s. It has been earmarked for the chop several times, most notably during Sheffield City Council’s 2017 felling programme, but was saved by local campaigners who spied the butterfly laying eggs on the tree.
Plymouth pear, Plymouth, Devon
Fact file: Approximate age: Unknown/Girth: 1.30 metres
Derriford's Plymouth Pear is one of the UK's rarest trees – the only tree species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Though it might once have been widespread in our woodlands, the species is now thought to live exclusively in wild hedgerows in Plymouth and Truro. Covered with pure white flowers in spring, this particular tree is all the more impressive as much bigger trees in the area have been lost to new roads. A protective barrier now safeguards it for future generations.
Sweet Chestnut, Wrexham
Fact file: Approximate age: 484 years/Girth: 6.05 metres
The sweet chestnut of Acton Park has become a reliable fixture in the landscape. It has withstood many challenges during its half millennium, from post war plundering of the park for firewood in the 1940s to dozens of deadly storms, including that of 2021 when many neighbouring trees lost limbs or were toppled completely. Now a feature of community events, the stately tree is well loved by locals for its history, value and beauty.
Highland Gateway Walnut, Perth
Fact file: Approximate age: 250-300 years/Girth: 2.34 metres
Standing proud in the car park of Inveralmond Retail Park on the A9, this majestic multi-stemmed tree is a real eye catcher in the urban landscape. The area is known as the Highland Gateway and is popular with travellers heading north from Perth towards the Highlands. Visitors admire this noticeably lovely and unusual tree amid all the concrete and especially appreciate it in summer when its boughs offer shade and relief from the hustle and bustle as well as the sun’s hot rays.
Belvoir Oak, Belfast
Fact file: Approximate age: 500+ years old/Girth: 8.01 metres
The fascinating fragmented form of this ancient tree makes it difficult to estimate its age with confidence, but it was claimed that the oaks of Belvoir were over three hundred years old more than a century ago. Thought to be the oldest surviving tree in Belvoir Park Forest, it may be the oldest in all of Northern Ireland. The gnarly survivor is recognised as part of the country’s living heritage, having witnessed the growth of Belfast from a small settlement to the city it is today.
Public wildcard nomination – Library holm oak, Westbury Wiltshire
Fact file: Approximate age: Unknown/Girth: 7.10 metres
Chosen from the public nominations, this holm oak watches over the town library from the public Soisy Gardens that wrap around the great building. Nestled in the hub of the town, the oak's far reaching canopy is a popular spot for community events as well as to relax with a borrowed book. Its history is unknown, but its enormous size suggests it pre-dates the 18th century building, which was originally Westbury House, once home to prominent mill owner and MP, Abraham Laverton.
Pictures courtesy The Woodland Trust
Greenwich Park sweet chestnut, London: Ruby Harrison
Holm oak blitz tree, Exeter, Devon: Simon Pryor
Cathedral foxglove tree, Lichfield, Staffordshire: The Woodland Trust
Lakeside holm oak, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire: Alina Bojescu
Crouch Oak, Addlestone, Surrey: Tessa Chan
Gorton Park poplar, Manchester: Alex Shuttleworth
Grantham Oak, Grantham, Lincolnshire: Julian Hight
Chelsea Road elm, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Phil Formby
Plymouth pear, Plymouth, Devon: The Woodland Trust
Sweet Chestnut, Wrexham: Kyle Jones
Highland Gateway Walnut, Perth: George Anderson
Belvoir Oak, Belfast: Glynis Watt
Library holm oak, Westbury Wiltshire: William Hudson