An ancient Co Down oak tree said to have inspired the Chronicles of Narnia has been nominated for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition.
he Kilbroney oak is located in Kilbroney Park near Rostrevor, where CS Lewis holidayed as a child, later describing it as his vision of Narnia.
The oak is on a shortlist of 12, which has been decided by tree experts from the Woodland Trust as well as members of the public.
These trees have now been recorded for posterity on the charity’s ancient tree inventory (ATI).
Volunteers nominated hundreds of examples on their walks around the UK, sending images and information about the contenders to the Trust.
While getting the public to vote for a favorite tree may seem like a bit of fun, the trust says the competition, which is now in its eighth year, is important because it highlights rare ancient and veteran trees, their role in fighting the climate crisis and biodiversity loss in the UK, and why protecting them is vital for the future of the planet.
Tom Reed, citizen science officer for the ATI and a judge in the competition, said: “The enthusiasm for ancient and veteran trees and the growing number of records being submitted to the ATI in the past couple of years showed just how much people love and value their trees.
“We selected the trees based on their size and significance for their species and also looked for trees steeped in history as well as trees that had high ecological, aesthetic or cultural value. It’s up to the public to pick a favorite from that impressive list.
“It is important to record ancient trees when they are found, as we do not know how many there are. A study by the University of Nottingham said there could be 1.7m to 2.1m ancient and veteran trees in England alone, of which only 115,000 are on record,” he added.
“Most of these are unlikely to be protected by policy or legislation, so it is impossible to know how many are at risk.
Last year’s winner was the Kippford leaning tree, a hawthorn on the west coast of Scotland.
But the Kilbroney Oak enters the field with a track record of success, having been named Northern Ireland Tree of the Year in 2016.
It’s said to be well over 200 years old and stands with a girth of 5.97 metres, as it guards the enchanting Fairy Glen entrance.
Affectionately known as ‘Old Homer’, the evergreen oak was planted by the Ross family on, at that time, their private estate. The Ross’ legacy, a mix of native and exotic specimens from all over the world, lives on in Kilbroney Park overlooking Carlingford Lough — now Council-owned and open to the public.
Today, as a tribute, the park has its own Narnia trail, tucked away in the arboretum.
Competing against the Kilbroney Oak, trees include The Escley oak in Herefordshire, said to be almost 500 years old, The Flitton oak, Devon, which is even older at an estimated 700 years and a spectacular Waverley Abbey yew tree in Farnham, Surrey, which stands in the ruins of the very first monastery to be founded in Britain 900 years ago by the Cistercian order.
Adam Cormack, the Woodland Trust’s head of campaigning, added: “These trees have significant value. Yet very few have legal protection, which currently only comes in very specific circumstances, like if a tree happens to be located in a protected wildlife site. It’s protection by proxy rather than proper protected heritage status. After all, some of these trees are more than a thousand years old.”
“We believe that now is the time to give these living legends the legal status they deserve. We all want to be able to help protect these wonderful old trees for centuries to come.”
Voting via the Woodland Trust website closes at noon on October 31. The winner will be announced on November 4 and will go on to represent the UK at the European tree of the year 2023.