200-year-old Kirkwall sycamore named Scottish Tree of the Year

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An Orcadian sycamore which “owes its existence” to the Napoleonic wars has been named Scottish Tree of the Year.

The 200-year-old so-called Big Tree in Kirkwall has received a £1,000 care package from the People’s Postcode Lottery after being announced on Wednesday as the winner of the competition run by The Woodland Trust.

It was first planted in a walled garden, along with two others, by a landowner who got their wealth due to trade restrictions during the Napoleonic wars.

Annemiek Hoogenboom, People’s Postcode Lottery country director, said: “Massive congratulations to Orkney and its much-loved Big Tree.

“We are delighted that our players can support the nurture and celebration of trees held in such great affection by their communities.”

During the Napoleonic wars, international trade collapsed and the kelp industry boomed on Orkney, producing ash to be made into soap and glass.

A number of Orcadians became very wealthy and built houses in Kirkwall.

One of these houses had a walled garden in which three sycamore trees were planted.

In the 1870s, a new owner felled two of the trees, which caused public outcry, saving the third.

As Kirkwall grew, the Big Tree eventually found itself in a street rather than a garden.

In the late 20th century, a public outcry once again saved the tree after the local authority decided to remove it.

It now is a well-known landmark in the town and has been used as a meeting place by generations of Orcadians.

Woodland Trust Scotland director Carol Evans said: “The competition celebrates grand trees, old trees, historic trees and trees with a story.

“The Big Tree may be a comparatively modest specimen but it has a big place in Kirkwall’s heart. A worthy winner.”

Public nominations opened earlier in the year and an expert panel chose six finalists from the 22 nominated trees, which went to a public online vote in September.

The other finalists were the Beauly Sycamore in Beauly, the Carnegie Oak in Dunfermline, David McCabe’s Spruce in Crieff, the Greenock Cut Oak and the Old Holly Bush of Castle Fraser.

Two runner-up trees – McCabe’s Spruce and the Beauly Sycamore – will also receive £500 care packages.

The awards can be used to arrange an expert health check, provide interpretation or educational materials or hold a celebratory event in honour of the tree.