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500 year-old Monmouth oak in running for ‘Tree of the Year’ 2022

Credit: William Bick

A 500 year-old oak tree in Monmouthshire is among the unique specimens in the running to be crowned the prestigious winner of the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year for 2022.

Tree experts at the Woodland Trust and members of the public have selected a shortlist of 12 trees from around the UK, all which have all been recorded on the Trust’s ‘hall of fame’ for ancient trees, the Ancient Tree Inventory (ATI).

The annual Tree of the Year competition celebrates these living legends; the Woodland Trust’s panel picked favourites from an original cast of hundreds highlighted by eagle-eyed volunteers since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

The ‘Rolls of Monmouth Oak’ tree is the only tree from Wales to make the shortlist; it is situated on the Rolls of Monmouth golf course, Monmouthshire. Estimated to be around 500 years old, this incredible specimen is the largest on the Great Oaks golf course in the Rolls of Monmouth Estate. Having lost most of its upper canopy, it has the typical squat form of an ancient oak growing in an open area. The trunk is hollowing, with hulks of deadwood still retained, and the nooks and crannies, crevices and cracks in this spectacular pedunculate oak provide an important haven for local wildlife.

Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust in Wales is encouraging the Welsh public to vote for the Rolls of Monmouth Oak as voting is now open via the Woodland Trust website until noon on Monday, 31 October. The winner will be announced on Friday, November 4.

Competition judge and ATI lead Tom Reed 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 over to the public to pick a favourite from that impressive list.”

Now in its eighth year, the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition highlights the importance of rare ancient and veteran trees, their role in fighting climate change and biodiversity loss in the UK, and why protecting them is vital for the future of the planet.

Reed explained: “Oak trees, in particular, have the ability to steal the limelight as they are such awesome and striking specimens. Their sheer size captures the imagination, and the events they must have witnessed unfolding beneath their branches during their lifetime is mindblowing. The fact we have so many oaks featuring reflects the make-up of the ATI, which has more than 40% native oaks in the database.”

Oaks also support more wildlife than any other native tree species in the UK, with 329 species depending solely on oak trees for survival.

“Of course, there are many other equally worthy species– as this fine list shows,” said Reed. “And it’s important to remember that while not all ancient and veteran trees are as big as our ancient oaks, they are just as irreplaceable as havens for wildlife and carbon stores. All the UK’s remaining ancient woodlands and individual trees are crucial in fighting the climate and nature crisis, but they are also pieces of history with amazing stories to tell.

“Recent research has shown there are potentially hundreds of thousands of ancient and veteran trees still to be mapped across the UK and thanks to the combined efforts of ancient tree recorders over the past two years we have demonstrated that we are still finding special trees every single day.”

Tree of the Year celebrates these ‘cathedrals of nature’, but across the world our oldest, most valuable trees are being lost.

Woodland Trust head of campaigning Adam Cormack said: “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 to protect these wonderful old trees for centuries to come.”

This year’s winner will go forward to represent the UK in the European Tree of the Year 2023 contest.