The results of the European Tree of the Year contest are in; with an oak, ‘Oak Józef’, from Poland taking the crown.
Northern Ireland’s champion, a remarkable evergreen oak at Rostrevor’s Kilbroney Park, came sixth – out of a total of 16 contenders from as far away as Estonia.
The 200-year-old holm oak, now widely known as ‘Old Homer’, can take a well-earned bow after securing 7,101 votes.
Organised by the Environmental Partnership Association, the European contest began in 2011, and this was the second year that an entry for Northern Ireland was submitted.
The County Down veteran, voted Northern Ireland’s Tree of the Year 2016, was nominated by Alistair Livingstone on behalf of the local community group LIGHT 2000.
Alistair said: “We’ve worked tirelessly to raise awareness of, and encourage votes for, ‘Old Homer’ – who is now something of an icon. He’s been adored by generation after generation, who have gathered here for school outings, international music festivals and more. And we hope that – with a little helping hand – his huge canopy will continue to provide shelter and shade for centuries to come.”
Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, added: “We want members of the public, and decision makers, to recognise the huge cultural importance of our trees. And this competition provides an excellent opportunity to do just that.
“This oak really has captured the hearts and minds of everyone. Northern Ireland has a relatively small population, which makes the number of votes – over 7,000 – truly remarkable. A huge ‘thank you’ to the LIGHT 2000 team for their determined efforts, and thanks also to each and every person who took the time to vote.
“With the Welsh entry – the Brimmon Oak – coming runner-up, it’s a good result for our UK trees, and heartening to see them in the limelight.”
Kilbroney Park is owned by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, and is freely open to all.
The Woodland Trust will launch the search for the next Tree of the Year this summer.
See the full results of the European competition at www.treeoftheyear.org.