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Scots pine branching out to be symbol of the nation

SCOTLAND'S lack of an official tree could be about to change thanks to the actions of a nature and wildlife lover turned campaigner.

PEOPLE POWER: Alex Hamilton's quest to have the Scots Pine named as the country's national tree is about to bear fruit.
PEOPLE POWER: Alex Hamilton's quest to have the Scots Pine named as the country's national tree is about to bear fruit.

When Alex Hamilton first raised the matter with the Forestry Commission, it said it didn't know what could be done about the campaign.

But the nature enthusiast, who lives close to the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, was undeterred and has now taken up the cause of Pinus sylvestris, better known as the Scots Pine.

Tomorrow MSPs will be invited to begin the process of designating the tree, mainstay of the historic Caledonian Forest, as one of the country's official national symbols.

The Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood will consider his plea "calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government, as a symbolic commitment to our woodlands and natural heritage, to proclaim the Scots Pine as the National Tree of Scotland".

Already he has the support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, Trees for Life, the Woodland Trust Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the John Muir Trust.

In addition, Scottish Natural Heritage, while not being in a position to give official support to the petition, has stated that it looks forward to responding to enquiries from the Parliament, describing the Scots Pine as "a very suitable candidate as the National Tree of Scotland".

Mr Hamilton says in his petition: "The debate about the future of Scotland is and should be multi-dimensional and I believe that the vision of the future of Scotland should include a permanent commitment to our woodlands and natural heritage.

"A clear statement to this effect should be made and, as part of that, I wish to propose that the Scottish Government and Parliament adopts the Scots Pine as the National Tree of Scotland."

Backing his proposals, Lloyd Austin, head of conservation policy at RSPB Scotland wrote to the committee saying: "Although there are many native tree species in Scotland, the Caledonian forest, home to many Scots Pine, is an iconic habitat which contains a large number of species in need of conservation.

"We firmly believe adoption of this symbol would be fitting in 2013, the Year of Natural Scotland, as a celebration and strong commitment to our woodlands, helping secure it for future generations."

The conservation charity dedicated to restoring the Caledonian Forest, Trees for Life, has also written in support of Mr Hamilton. Director Alan Watson Featherstone wrote: "Over 70 countries around the world, from Canada to Childen and Denmark to South Africa have National Trees that provide important symbols for their national identities. At a time of increased support for Scottish independence, the declaration of the Scots Pine will further the development of a uniquely Scottish national identity.

"In a UK context, the Scots Pine's current natural range distinguishes Scotland from the rest of the country, as the only naturally-occurring pinewoods are in the Highlands.

"The oak is thought of as the National Tree of the UK, but that is a very English-centred perspective, as oaks predominated the forests of England."

Mr Hamilton points out that some backers are only supporting the principle of designating a National Tree, not specifying the Scots Pine but suggesting a wider canvass of public opinion.

He says: "It's great that the Holyrood petitions system allows an ordinary punter like me the chance to set something rolling."

But he puts up one further argument for Pinus sylvestris, and that is Loxia scotica – the Scottish crossbill, the UK's only bird found nowhere else in the world as the seeds from pinecones are the mainstay of its diet. But he is not suggesting a challenge to the status of Aquila chrysaetos, the Golden Eagle, as the National Bird.

Factfile

– The Scots Pine is the most widely distributed conifer worldwide. It can be found as far north as the Arctic Circle, as far east as Siberia and as far south as Spain.

– The oldest pine in Scotland is located in Glen Loyne in Inverness-shire and is estimated to be more than 550 years old. It was around when Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1492.

– Older Scots Pines have been discovered in Scandinavia. One in Norway has been dated at more than 700 years old.

– They can grow in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their environment. In Scotland they can reach up to 20 metres (65ft) in height and 3.6 metres (or 12ft) in circumference.

– The Caledonian Forest is unique because the Scots Pine is the only conifer that's found there. In other countries Scots Pine grow alongside Norway spruce and Siberian fir.

– It once covered 1,500,000 hectares of the Highlands. It now covers around 1 per cent of that.

– The forest's reduction in scale is partly a result of climatic changes, though human exploitation is thought to be by far the greatest factor.

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