An oak deeply rooted in the folklore of the Scouting movement has been crowned the UK’s tree of the year.
The Gilwell Oak, which sits in the heart of Gilwell Park in Epping, Essex, beat off competition from across the country to win the coveted Woodland Trust prize.
Scout Association founder Robert Bayden Powell championed the tree in 1929 as a metaphor for the growth of the youth organisation.
It was eulogised as a lesson to young scouts that big things are possible from modest beginnings, according to the group.
Chief scout Bear Grylls hailed the victorious oak as an “unbending symbol” of the Scouts’ desire to “change the world for the better”.
With 26% of 7,000 votes cast by the public, it conquered 10 contenders in the English tree of the year category – including Parliament Oak in Nottinghamshire, where King John is thought to have summoned Parliament in the 13th century.
In a showdown with the finest trees of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Gilwell Oak again triumphed, following deliberations by a panel of experts.
It will now serve as the UK’s candidate for the European Tree of the Year contest, due to be held in 2018.
Bear Grylls, the renowned survival expert who is currently the association’s chief scout, said: “The Gilwell Oak has been the backdrop to hundreds of courses in which thousands of volunteer leaders have been inspired and motivated to change young people’s lives in the UK and across the world.
“It’s the unbending symbol of Scouting’s desire to change the world for the better.”
Although Gilwell Oak’s image is intertwined with the Scouts’ wholesome reputation, a murkier past is shrouded by its form.
Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman who terrorised 18th century England, is said to have sheltered beneath the tree’s boughs as he prepared to ambush stagecoaches, according to the Woodland Trust.
Despite this, the influence of the Gilwell Oak on the work of the Scouts has endured in modern times – with the “wood” badge for scout leaders named after it.
Some of the movement’s earliest adult leader training courses took place beneath the tree’s branches, the Scouts said.
Originally, wooden beads carved from the oak’s windfall branches were presented to participants.
First founded in 1907, the Scouts grew into the biggest co-educational youth movement in the country, now boasting more than 400,000 members.
Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust chief executive, said: “Our competition aims to highlight and celebrate our country’s remarkable trees, and to ultimately ensure they are given the recognition and protection they deserve.
“The passion shown by the people who nominated trees, and the way the public get behind them in the voting process shows how much of an inspiration trees are to people.”
Gilwell Oak will also receive a £1,000 tree care award as part of its prize.
Winners of the title in other parts of the UK were the Erskine House Tree in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Big Tree is Kirkwall, Scotland, and The Hollow Tree in Gnoll Country Park, Wales.
Voting for the European Tree of the Year will open in February 2018, the Woodland Trust said.