Lovers in Paris have caused havoc and serious damage in recent years by commemorating their relationships with padlocks attached to the city’s famous Pont Neuf bridge.
But those seeking a more lasting – and environmentally friendly – symbol might instead consider planting a tree. It worked for a romantic young man from Leeds a century ago, whose tree has just been voted the UK’s favourite.
Vic Stead grafted three beech saplings together in Aberford, where he would walk along the colliery railway every day to see his beloved. Bent into an N shape, the trees grew to form a lasting tribute to Nellie, and evidently worked, as the pair ended up married. The tree is still famous among local couples, and was nominated by Vic and Nellie’s grandson.
Nellie’s Tree beat dozens of other candidates for the Woodland Trust title of England’s Tree of the Year 2018, a competition to celebrate the UK’s thousands of remarkable trees through a public vote.
A giant sequoia in the unlikely surroundings of Northern Ireland’s Castlewellan Forest Park, grown from a seed brought back from California in 1853, took the Irish title, while Scotland chose a spruce in the Outer Hebrides and Wales the Pwllpriddog Oak in Rhandirmwyn, Carmarthenshire.
The winners were unveiled on Wednesday evening on the BBC’s One Show. As well as giving people across the country the chance to spotlight their favourite woodlands, the competition has a serious point, as the Woodland Trust believes ancient forests and woods are under threat as never before from development, disease and climate change.
The charity has raised concerns over the route of the proposed HS2 high-speed railway line, which it says will encroach on and in some cases destroy at least 19 ancient woods, which campaigners say enjoy scant legal protection despite being irreplaceable. The areas in question cover nearly 17 hectares in greater Manchester, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. They are home to rare species such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, willow tit and wood warbler, bats including Bechstein’s and barbastelle, and butterflies such as the purple hairstreak and silver-washed fritillary.
Ancient woodlands offer a unique habitat, built up over centuries, which cannot be replicated in newly grown forests, and cover only about 2% of the UK’s land.
Kaye Brennan, lead campaigner at the Woodland Trust, said: “The UK’s trees could do with a bit more love. Since last year’s contest, more trees have come down needlessly in our towns and cities and opportunities to save important trees from infrastructure plans such as HS2 have been denied.”