By George Mair

ONE was planted by Mary, Queen of Scots at the heart of Scotland’s oldest university while the other is growing out of a former colliery.

Now the historic hawthorn and remarkable sycamore are both in the running to be named the nation’s Tree of the Year 2020. Queen Mary’s Thorn, planted some 460 years ago in a quadrangle at the University of St Andrews, and the Climate Change Tree in the one-time Sheriffyards Colliery, near Alloa, Clackmannanshire, are two of five finalists announced today in the Woodland Trust’s seventh annual Tree of the Year competition.

Also shortlisted are a historic oak that stands guard at the entrance to a bridge near Inverness, a “tenacious little” oak that “defies logic” on the banks of Loch Lomond, and a once-lonely rowan symbolising regrowth in a Borders valley.

The Scottish competition, alongside similar versions in England and Wales, celebrates the country’s best-loved trees, from historic giants to those with a special local story to tell.

An online public vote also opens today to find the winning tree, with the victor set to benefit from a care package worth £1,000 that can be spent on works to benefit its health, interpretation signage or a community celebration.

Carol Evans, Woodland Trust Scotland director, said the charity had received double the expected volume of responses this year, and that a “survival” theme had emerged as people engaged with trees and nature during lockdown.

“We felt a definite lockdown effect in the competition this year, with twice the usual number of nominations,” she said.

“There was a common theme to a lot of the trees and their stories – of tenacity and hanging on against the odds.

“There were a handful of trees just outside the final five, which had been discovered or were provoking particular affection during people’s daily walks.

“Everyone has taken solace from nature on their doorstep and it has been quite moving to see so many trees that became places to escape, gyms and classrooms.

“Trees were there for us, as they always are when we need to boost our mental health and wellbeing.”

The Tree of the Year competition, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, has run annually since 2014.

The competition has helped to discover and celebrate numerous incredible trees across all three nations.

This year, 50 Scottish trees were nominated by the public .This was then reduced to five by a judging panel of independent experts, ahead of the public vote.

Queen Mary’s Thorn grows inside St Mary’s Quad at the university and is almost certainly the oldest tree in the Fife town.

The Climate Change Tree stands at Gartmorn Dam, a country park and nature reserve near Alloa that is located on the site of the former Sherriffyards Colliery that closed in 1921.

The sycamore now flourishes on top of the eroding remains of the fossil fuel industry, where it has subsided and re-grown from its exposed rootplate to create an extraordinary tangle.

Also in the running is the “magnificent” Lord President’s Oak, which stands at one end of a bridge on the path to the famous St Mary’s Clootie Well in Culloden Forest, near Inverness.

Further south, the “tenacious” Milarrochy Oak is on the shore in a picturesque bay near Balmaha on Loch Lomond.

Finally, the Survivor Tree in Carrifran Valley, in the Borders, has been described as a symbol of the 20-year journey to revive the wild heart of Southern Scotland.

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: “The competition has unearthed some remarkable trees and demonstrates the strong ties and affection communities feel towards them, fostering a strong connection with nature.

“I am delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported this celebration of the nation’s best loved trees.”