The Peace Tree, recently crowned Northern Ireland’s best-loved tree, is now competing for votes in the European Tree of the Year contest, run by the Environmental Partnership Association.
The oak, in Belfast’s Woodvale Park, triumphed over five other worthy contenders last November to secure the title of Northern Ireland’s Tree of the Year, in a competition organised by the Woodland Trust.
It now faces stiff European competition, with 14 other splendid specimens, from as far away as Bulgaria and Estonia, in the running.
Symbolic of peace and remembrance, the revered Peace Tree was planted in Empire Day in 1919 in honour of those who never returned home from the First World War.
It was jointly nominated by historian Bobby Foster and Sam Coulter.
Mr Foster said: “This remarkable and well-loved tree, almost a century old, became an important focal point for veterans for many years after the First World War.
“And more recently, in 2014, a European War Memorial was erected beside it, marking the huge loss of life on both sides of the war. Uniquely, the memorial remembers the deaths of German, French and Belgian soldiers, as well as the loss suffered by the British Expeditionary Force 1914.
“Essentially, we have two distinct tributes: one natural, living and ever-changing with the seasons, and one man-made. Yet both reinforce the same important message of peace and remembrance, and both will be at the heart of our community for centuries to come.”
Sam Coulter added: “We were absolutely delighted when the Peace Tree was voted Northern Ireland’s Tree of the Year and are truly grateful to everyone who took the time to vote. We’re appealing to people – right across the country – to, once again, give this tree the backing it deserves, helping to put Northern Ireland firmly on the map.”
The Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition aims to highlight and celebrate the country’s remarkable trees, and to ultimately ensure that these precious natural monuments are given the recognition and protection they deserve.
Patrick Cregg MBE, director of the Woodland Trust, said: “The enthusiasm of those who nominated local trees, together with the number of votes, was fantastic. And now, for the first time ever, we have a wonderful contender representing Northern Ireland in the European contest.
“Sam and Bobby are inspirational, as well as informative. Apparently, when the Peace Tree was planted at Woodvale, a sister tree was planted around the same time in Belfast’s Falls Park as a tribute to the soldiers from that area who were killed in the war. Unfortunately this sapling didn’t survive, and it’s recently been agreed by Belfast City Council that a new one will be planted in its place.”
To vote for the Peace Tree, head to www.treeoftheyear.org. Voting ends on 29 February.