There has been a debate going on for a wee while. It gets some publicity from time to time. At the moment it is out for consultation, and survey. All thoughts welcome. And it’s easy to add your own tuppenceworth, should you wish.
Should Scotland have a national tree?
And if so, which one?
I read a fine essay on the subject over the weekend. It came from Dr James H C Fenton, who is a bit of an expert on matters arboreal. Most recently head of conservation in the Falklands, he’s been landscape policy adviser to Scottish Natural Heritage in a career that began studying Antarctic peat. So, words from the wise methinks.
Dr Fenton explores the tales of the fabled Great Wood of Caledon, the possible reinstatement of which is part of the move behind nominating the Scots Pine; replacing all those plantations of spruce and larch and conifer covered hillsides, with something a bit more natural. Ultimately though he favours either the rowan or the silver birch; or even the heather if we lower our sights nearer to ground level, and have a shrub as part of our identity. In his view we need to set aside the sentimentality of Pinus Scotus, which may be largely down it having Scots in the name.
Identity is important. We are about to be our own nation. And a peer of the realm, a former socialist and man of the people who became head of Nato and then took the ermine for his unelected place and tax-free largesse, has told us that we have no culture, no identity. So a symbolic tree is important at the moment.
A tree is just one of the many marks of our cultural identity. I’ve spoken before of those mighty Cadzow Oaks not far from here, relics from the days of ancient Kings of Scotland. A tree is a serious symbol; it is not a c-u-jimmy-hat, or a piece of tat for the tourist hordes on the Royal Mile. It can be a source of pride, an identity.
So assuming we agree that a tree should be part of it all; which one should it be? Dr Fenton argues against the mighty pine. He reminds me of the humbler trees around the policies here, the ones that stand up to the harsher weather, and survive, and thrive.
I like the silver birch; the one that we grew from a broken branch on a woodland walk somewhere long forgotten. And I like the rowan. We planted that at the millennium. It fills a gap where some non-native eucalypts stood, until it got too cold. Or there’s the horse chestnut, coaxed from a conker by FirstBorn when he was but an Urchin himself, growing and spreading with him, strengthening and putting down roots as the years pass.
And the rowan grows, and it feeds the birds. It adds the colour of the rainbow trout to the mackerel-shoaled background of the average West of Scotland sky. And it has lots more fishy business to it.
For the rowan is steeped in myths. It keeps the witches at bay. From the fruit we might make jelly, wine even. Fine accompaniments to the meats of the woodland and the hillside. And Rabbie wrote a song about it.
So after a bit of thought, I’ve plumped for the humble rowan. Go on, have your say. Fill in the survey. For we do have a culture, and an identity. And a tree would be a fine symbol of that, wouldn’t it?