Tree of the Year 2023

Greenwich Park Sweet Chestnut (Photo from Woodland Trust/Ruby Harrison)

Dear Readers, this year the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tree of the Year’ competition features urban trees, and about time too – trees in streets and parks are sometimes majestic and long-lived examples of their kind, and if ever we need trees in our cities it’s now, for the shade and cooling that they produce. There are twelve trees on the list, and all of them would be worthy winners. You can see the whole lot here, but here are my four favourites. Do vote if you have a minute! Anything that helps people to pay attention to their environment can only be a good thing.First up is the Greenwich Park Sweet Chestnut (pictured above). This is the only London tree on the list, but it was planted at the request of King Charles II, 360 years ago. Trees were planted in the formal avenues that Charles admired so much when he was in France. Nowadays all the original trees are looking a bit gnarled and twisted, but, like people, they are so much more interesting for having lived a bit.

Next up is the Chelsea Road Elm from Sheffield. What a story this tree has!

Protestors with the Chelsea Road Elm (Photo from

This is a Huntingdon elm, a hybrid between a Field elm and a Wych elm. As such, it is resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, and hence survived the worst depredations of the disease, which killed an estimated 60 million elm trees during the 70s and 80s. Furthermore, it’s host to the White-Letter Hairstreak butterfly, which breeds only on elm trees.

People in the UK will remember that a few years ago, Sheffield City Council embarked on one of the worst spells of tree destruction seen for years, and one of the trees earmarked to be felled was the Chelsea Road Elm. A four year fight ensued: campaigners hired an open-top bus so that people could admire the butterflies, held a street party in its vicinity and, when the chainsaws turned up, bodily blocked the tree. I am full of admiration for the campaigners, who just wouldn’t give up, and there were many of them. Finally, in 2019 the tree was saved, and some New Horizon elms (a variety which is completely immune to Dutch Elm Disease) have been planted nearby, in the hope that the White-Letter Hairstreaks will colonise these new trees too. What a story!

White-letter Hairstreak (Photo by By Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK – White Letter HairstreakUploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0,

Third is the Crouch Oak at Addlestone in Surrey. Thought to be over eight hundred years old, Queen Elizabeth I is thought to have picnicked underneath it (presumably when it was a bit less urban than it is now), and preachers John Wycliffe and Charles Spurgeon have spoken under its boughs. Alas there are always idiots, and in 2007 someone tried to set fire to the poor thing. Fortunately, the Fire Brigade were able to put the blaze out, and it’s hoped that the tree will continue for at least another two hundred years.

The Crouch Oak at Addlestone (Photo by 80N, CC BY-SA 2.5 <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

And finally, how about this magnificent walnut tree, standing in the car park of Inveralmond Retail Park n Perth, Scotland? It’s a mere youngster at about 300 years old, but it’s known as the Highland Gateway Walnut as it stands en route to the Highlands. There’s something so incongruous about this magnificent tree standing in such urban surroundings that I am tempted to give it my vote.

In the end, though, I have to go for the Sheffield Elm tree. Urban trees are under such constant threat, and the tale of how this one survived is inspirational. Furthermore, it illustrates how important street trees are not just to humans, but also to the many other species that we share our cities with. Do have a look at the full list, and let me know what you think! So many great trees, and so many great stories.

Woodland Trust Tree of the Year 2023

And if you’re inspired, you can look at the Tree of the Year 2022 and the Tree of the Year 2021!

2 thoughts on “Tree of the Year 2023

  1. Anne

    The idea of honouring trees has always appealed to me. These ones are certainly very old and deserve to be treated with respect and awe.

  2. Sarah

    I saw a news story about this too and spotted that there is a candidate in my home city. It’s a Holm Oak in the city centre that survived the Exeter Blitz, though a church mere feet away from it was destroyed. I’ve seen it numerous times without knowing about its history so I went back to have a proper look and pay my respects to this survivor.

    It has a big bole with a thinner trunk coming out of it, like a bad graft, which made me wonder if the top of the tree was blown off or burned by the bombs and it has regenerated from the stump. Apparently holm oaks are good at regenerating from the base of the trunk following wildfire events in their native Mediterranean region. I will see if I can find out.

    I voted for the Sheffield elm too!


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