Robin Hood tree in Northumberland National Park crowned country's best

The Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrians Wall. Picture by National Trust/John Millar
The Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrians Wall. Picture by National Trust/John Millar

An iconic tree in the Northumberland National Park has been crowned England's Tree of the Year in an annual contest, following a public vote.

The Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrian’s Wall, has been voted as the nation's best in the Woodland Trust competition. After receiving 21 per cent of nearly 12,000 votes cast by the public, the tree, cared for by the National Trust, will now go forward to the European Tree of the Year competition in early 2017.

The tree, situated within the UNESCO World Heritage site, will also benefit from a Tree LC care grant of £1,000. The grant can be used to arrange a health check from an arboriculturalist, provide interpretation or educational materials or simply just hold a celebratory event in honour of the tree.

Also known as the Robin Hood tree following its appearance in the famous 90s film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it is nestled within one of the familiar gaps along Hadrian’s Wall within the Whin Sill. They are essentially channels, naturally worn away by vast amounts of meltwater flowing from the ice sheets that once covered the area.

This section of Hadrian’s Wall is quite telling as it informs us about how the Romans intuitively constructed it many moons ago, staggering and layering the stones over the landscape.

The tree lies within Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, England’s first and Europe’s largest International Dark Sky Park, an ideal place for a spot of stargazing.

A panel of experts in each country whittled down nearly 200 public nominations to create shortlists based on the nominees’ story, how they would make use of the grant and visual appeal of the tree; 10 trees were chosen in England and six in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The winning tree in Scotland was the Ding Dong Tree, at Prestonpans Primary School; the winning one in Wales was the Brimmon Oak, Newtown, Powys; and the winning one in Northern Ireland was The Holm Oak, Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor, County Down. These trees will also battle it out for the title of European Tree of the Year.

Andrew Poad, general manager at the National Trust’s Hadrian’s Wall, said: "Sycamore Gap is included within the six miles of Hadrian's Wall that the National Trust cares for, with the help from members, donations and visitors.

"The National Trust looks after lots of important trees including a 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew near Runnymede in Surrey and Newton’s Apple, which triggered the great scientist to form his laws of gravity. The Robin Hood tree has become an iconic image for Northumberland and is a wonderful stop-off point for those walking alongside the Wall.

"The grant will be used to better understand the health of the tree and take any remedial actions required to protect its roots which are increasingly becoming exposed due to the numbers of people passing under its boughs to experience this stunning landscape. As with all of the trees we care for, we want to protect it for future generations. ”

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust chief executive, said: "Trees are inspirational in so many ways and our four winners clearly demonstrate how we cherish these natural landmarks. We need to harness this passion to protect individual trees from the increasing threats of development, disease and mismanagement to ensure future generations can enjoy them too.”

Annemiek Hoogenboom, country director of People’s Postcode Lottery added: "We are delighted to support the Woodland Trust and provide the opportunity for communities to celebrate these fantastic trees and care for them long into the future."

The European Tree of the Year contest, run by the Environmental Partnership Association since 2011, looks for the best loved trees from countries across Europe. The previous winner, receiving 72,000 of the nearly 230,000 votes cast, was the The Oldest Tree of Bátászék, in Hungary.

The UK is home to one of the largest populations of ancient and veteran trees in Europe and over 9,000 people have signed up to the Trust’s V.I Trees campaign to ensure all Trees of National Special Interest have better long term protection from the threats posed by climate change, development, pests and diseases.