A lonely pine tree believed by superstitious locals to act as sentinel over a flooded Czech village has been chosen as Europe’s tree of the year, beating stiff competition from a Croatian gingko tree, a Portuguese chestnut and an English oak.
The Guardian of the Flooded Village has grown for 350 years on a rocky height near the village of Chudobin, said locally to play host to a devil that sat under it at night, playing the violin and warding off intruders – though in reality the eerie sounds are more likely to have come from the strong winds blowing over the valley.
Its guardianship was doomed, however, as a dam was constructed on the site and flooded the village, leaving only the lonely pine tree as witness to its former existence. Whether the devil still plays there is unknown.
Supernatural powers attributed to trees ranked multiple times in this year’s competition: another guardian tree, from Romania, took fifth place and two witch trees – in the Netherlands and Ireland – also scored highly.
The UK’s entry, the Allerton Oak, came in seventh place. Growing in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, the oak tree was where judges would meet to hold trials in medieval times, instead of a courthouse. A large crack in the tree is said to date from 1864 when a ship carrying gunpowder exploded on the Mersey – the explosion was heard 30 miles away and shattered thousands of windows.
Christmas cards containing leaves from the Allerton oak were sent to staff from Liverpool’s parks who were fighting at the front, to remind them of home. It was chosen as England’s tree of the year last autumn.
Four oaks made it to the final shortlist, with a “three-legged” specimen from Spain gaining more than 14,000 votes to take eighth place, followed by a venerable oak from Bulgaria and one from Italy.
The ceremony for this year’s popular competition, which attracted more than 285,000 votes across Europe, was called off in Brussels because of the widespread coronavirus lockdown, and took place online instead, with a video presentation of the history of the three top trees.
The competition, organised by the Environmental Partnership Association and the European Landowners’ Organisation, is intended to highlight the emotional connection many people feel to trees, as well as some of the threats to trees, including the impacts of the climate crisis, pollution and the cutting down of ancient forest across Europe.