Canada has its maple, England, Wales and Ireland have their oaks, and each of the States and Territories that form the United States of America have their own tree too, ranging from the towering Sequioa of California to the aptly named flame tree of the Northern Marianas.
Currently Scotland is one of the few countries worldwide not to have its own national tree, but a man called Alex Hamilton has set out to change that. He’s led a call for Scots pine to be officially designated by the Scottish Government and has used the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to good effect, culminating in a session in front of MSPs in January to promote his campaign.
Alex wrote to the Woodland Trust and other charities with an interest in woodland to ask for support. Our position is that Scotland should have its own national tree, and the Year of Natural Scotland would be the perfect time for the Government to commit to that, but we want people to be given the say in which species is chosen.
That’s not to say that Scots pine isn’t a great candidate for the job. Just flick through work by top photographers like Colin Prior or stroll through a fragment of ancient Caledonian forest and you can see why it’s so popular. Just 1% of the pine forest which once covered a vast area of northern Scotland survives, but the thick red bark and gnarled branches of the pine are exported world-wide in photographs, calendars and postcards.
Pine stakes a good claim for favourite, but there’s some indication that rowan, the travellers tree, is an outside contender. It’s a species often found around ruined crofts and other buildings, reputedly planted to keep away evil spirits. Bright red rowan berries bring striking colour to many of our woods, and it’s a hardy pioneer species, often found clinging on in high and rocky places.
Other suggestions abound. Alder wood is known among furniture makers as Scots mahogany. Eadha Enterprises, a social enterprise that champions aspen has weighed in with its own campaign to nominate the species as Scotland’s Guardian Tree. And it would be remiss to not mention the Arran whitebeams. These three species, one of which was discovered just a few years ago, are Scotland’s only endemic trees. Compared to the mighty pine they aren’t that tall or striking, but by number they are also some of the world’s rarest trees.
Our approach has support. The John Muir Trust and the Community Woodlands Association have promoted our poll to find Scotland’s choice for the national tree, and the Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has told Parliament he is keen for the public to have a say in the process. And, as the man who had a good idea and the gumption to act on it, it’s only fair that Alex Hamilton should have the last word: Here’s part of his latest submission to the Scottish Parliament:
“I am more than happy to embrace democracy and to give the choice of the National Tree to the people of Scotland. If the majority of people prefer the rowan or the birch, so be it. Furthermore, if there is a national vote, that process would itself encourage awareness of the natural environment and support the aims of the Year of Natural Scotland. Let the people speak.”
You can vote in our poll before 22 March. The results will be handed to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee as further evidence for support for a National Tree.
Rory Syme, PR and Communications Officer, Woodland Trust Scotland