They’ve recorded 15,000 trees and are branching out to do even more
Amateur tree enthusiasts are travelling round the country recording specimens and have just hit a landmark number, but there is still a long way to go,
THEY are a dedicated band of amateur tree hunters, on a quest to map and protect the oldest and most important specimens across the country.
Now the Woodland Trust has reached a major milestone – recording its 15,000th Scottish tree. As old as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the sweet chestnut they noted is at Murthly Castle in Perthshire.
Kylie Harrison Mellor, the Trust’s citizen science officer, said the historic recording is more than 300 years old and an important marker for the organisation.
She said: “Identifying where ancient trees are takes us one step closer to giving them the care and protection they need.
“So today’s recording of the 15,000th tree in Scotland is really worth celebrating – and so are the efforts of the dedicated band of tree recorders and verifiers who do this important work.”
The Ancient Tree Inventory took root as the Heritage Lottery funded Ancient Tree Hunt in January 2006 and the first tree recorded in Scotland was an ancient sweet chestnut at Roslin Chapel, Midlothian.
The system works in two stages: firstly, volunteers record trees; secondly, these are then checked by specially trained verifiers. Around 400 people have recorded trees since the project began and Scotland presently has five verifiers.
The UK’S ancient trees have no automatic right of protection. There is no equivalent to Scheduled Ancient Monument status, which important archaeological sites have.
The Woodland Trust says that “the famous Fortingall Yew highlights the disparity”.
Found growing in the churchyard of the Perthshire village which shares its name, it is among the oldest trees in Europe – modern experts estimate the tree is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, although others believe it could be a remnant of a post-roman Christian site dating back 1,500 years.
According to folklore, Pontius Pilate – the Roman governor who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus – was born in its shade and played there as a child.
But the Trust points out that it is the wall around the tree that attracts formal legal protection, rather than the tree itself.
“Ancient trees are as much a part of our heritage as stately homes, cathedrals and works of art, but they don’t get the same protection,” Ms Harrison Mellor adds.
Vital statistics of the Murthly Castle tree were taken on Thursday afternoon by Judy Dowling from St Andrews, Joan Sneddon from Largo, Noel Fojut from Berwickshire, Clair Mcfarlan from Dumfries and Lorna Holl from Balmaha. It was recorded with a remarkable trunk girth of 5.5 metres. The tree itself is estimated to be more than 300 years old. Ms Dowling, who is lead verifier for Scotland said: “It is amazing to reach this milestone, but we still have lots to do.
“We hear about new trees all the time and I always have my eyes peeled wherever I go around the country. It takes you to some amazing places. I have just loved being a part of this.”
Welcoming the tree hunters to Castle Murthly Estate, Thomas Steuart Fothringham said: “We are delighted our sweet chestnut is the 15,000th tree to go on the inventory.
“The designed landscape has been a feature at Murthly for half a millennium and continues to be highly valued.”
There are 200 trees which are so iconic they have their own individual names such as; Capon Oak, Mar Lodge Granny Pine, Drumlanrig Sycamore, Rizzio’s Chestnut and Glen Lyon Ash.
In October, a spruce tree on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides was named Scotland’s Tree of the Year.
Netty’s Tree was nominated in the Woodland Trust competition by Eoina Wilson, who lives in Inverness but originally comes from the island. Judges chose six trees from public nominations which were then put to an online vote.
The spruce was, until recent times, the only tree on the windswept island.
It was planted more than 100 years ago by the poet, priest and land rights activist Father Allan Mcdonald, whose bestknown poem was Eilein na h’oige – The Island of the Young.
It is named after Netty Macdonald, who lived on the nearby croft and encouraged all the island’s children to play on the tree as their cries and laughter reminded her of her own family who had grown up and moved away to find work on the mainland.
We hear about new trees all the time and I always have my eyes peeled wherever I go around the country
A map of all the recorded trees can be viewed at ati.woodlandtrust.org.uk.
The Woodland Trust’s Clair Mcfarlan, Noel Fojut, Judy Dowling, Lorna Holl and Joan Sneddon next to the ancient sweet chestnut at Murthly Castle in Perthshire.
Ms Sneddon and Ms Dowling measure the tree.