Symbols matter, from our favourite football team’s colours, to the flags of our nations. They help us identify with each other and can unite us in a common cause. That’s why the news that the thistle, the saltire cross, and the unicorn – which is Scotland’s national animal apparently – are to be joined by the Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, when it is designated as Scotland’s National Tree in the coming months.
2013 was our Year of Natural Scotland, and there could be no better legacy from a year focussing on the wonderful landscape and biodiversity of Scotland than a permanent national symbol of the value that is placed on our natural heritage, and trees in particular, here in Scotland.
Not only that, but it’s a great example of people power. The whole issue was initiated by a member of the public, Alex Hamilton from Glasgow, who submitted a public petition back in November 2012 requesting the Government consider proclaiming the Scots pine as the National Tree of Scotland. This was not the first time that something like this had been tried, previously the RSPB and The Scotsman newspaper had teamed up to try and have the Golden Eagle designated as Scotland’s National Bird, but since there is no formal mechanism in place to declare a “national anything” they rather stumped the Government officials who were not sure what to do and even took advice from the fantastically titled heraldic arbiter, the Lord Lyon, King of Arms. In the end their campaign was pitched into the long grass and rather lost its momentum.
However, they clearly “loosened the jar lid” for us. After Alex Hamilton submitted his petition, Woodland Trust Scotland ran a public poll to determine what species of tree would be the popular choice. The result resoundingly backed Alex’s first impression, with two thirds of respondents choosing Scots pine, and rowan the only near, but still distant, runner up with 20% of the vote.
On the back of a Member’s Debate on the subject in the Scottish Parliament, initiated by Joan McAlpine MSP – now our species champion for Scots pine at Holyrood, speaking up for its interests in terms of tree health and any other issues which might come up – the Scottish Environment Minister committed to run an official government consultation. This mirrored our own Woodland Trust one with two questions:
1. Should we have a National Tree?
2. If so, then what species would be the best choice?
That consultation ran over the end of 2013 and you may remember the guest blogs we hosted on Woodland Matters from supporters of a variety of different species, from rowan to Arran whitebeam.
The consultation results have now just been announced and 95% of the 4,500 respondents agreed that there should be a National Tree, again with over 50% saying that they thought Scots pine was the best choice.
The clue to its choice as Scotland’s tree is in the name, Scots pine, but much has been made of its international presence and recognition, a fine symbol for an outward looking nation. It is also not just the sort of native tree found in ancient and semi-natural woodland that we love at the Woodland Trust. It is a valuable commercial timber tree, which means it unites both sides of the forestry world.
As an added bonus, the Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP has announced that there will be in future a National Tree Day, or even a National Tree Week, and he has requested that Forestry Commission Scotland set up a new grant for the promotion of Scots pine. I think we all look forward to seeing what sort of creative and innovative new projects that will inspire.
Charles Dundas, Public Affairs Manager (Scotland)