The Cubbington Pear, a 250 year old tree directly in the line of the proposed HS2 rail link, has beaten some of the most famous and historically significant trees in the country to become the English Tree of the Year 2015. It will now go forward, along with the winners of the equivalent Woodland Trust competitions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which were also announced today on Countryfile on BBC1, to compete for European Tree of the Year in February 2016.
Over the last few years, the Cubbington Pear Tree in Warwickshire has become the poster-boy for all the trees, which according to HS2 Ltd themselves includes 97 ancient woodlands, that are under threat from the HS2 project. Campaigners believe that the fact the Cubbington Pear beat so many historically significant trees shows the strength of public opposition to the natural destruction HS2 would wreak.
The competition, run by the Woodland Trust was decided by the public voting for a shortlist of ten finalists. The Cubbington Pear Tree, which was the only finalist under threat from felling, took over a third all the votes cast by members of the public. It received more than twice as many votes as the second-placed Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree, which is recognised as the birthplace of the international trade union movement, and more than three times as many votes as the 2000 year-old third-placed Ankerwycke Yew at Runnymede, which was once worshipped by druids and was witness to the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago.
Other trees in the final 10 included the Boscobel Oak, a descendant of the tree Charles II hid in following the Battle of Worcester in 1651 (the reason so many pubs are called ‘The Royal Oak’), and the Glastonbury Holy Thorn, reputed to be a descendant of a tree planted by Jesus’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.
The full breakdown of voting is as follows:
Cubbington Pear Tree 33.5%; Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree 15%; Ankerwycke Yew 10.8%; Old Man of Calke 9.1%; Glastonbury Holy Thorn 7.8; Linford Lime Tree 7.8%; Acklington Black Poplar 5.9%; Martindale Yew 5.1%; Boscobel Oak 3.1%; Litherland Lime Tree 1.8%.
Believed to be over 250 years old, the Cubbington Pear Tree has been seen by generations at the top of a hill near South Cubbington Wood and still bears small edible pears which can be made into jelly. It is the second largest wild pear tree reported in the UK and the largest in Warwickshire. Its ‘mop-head’ form is characteristic of wild pear trees as is the spiny growth from the base of the trunk. This beloved tree may not survive much longer as it is due to be felled when construction of HS2 rail track between London and Birmingham begins in 2017.
Bizarrely, during a debate in the House of Commons on Friday 25th January 2015, then Minister of State at the Department for Transport, John Hayes MP, announced that he had “asked for a new arboreal study to see whether the Cubbington pear tree can be moved”, rather than be felled, as the current plans for the High Speed Two (HS2) project require. The Minister’s announcement seemed bizarre at the time as an environmental impact assessment by HS2 Ltd, found that translocation of the tree “is extremely unlikely to be successful and is not proposed”.
Another previous suggestion from HS2 Ltd is that the tree could be cloned by taking cuttings, when of course the simplest solution for preserving it would be to not cut it down in the first place.
“When I look at the fantastic trees that the Cubbington veteran pear tree has beaten to become England’s Tree of the Year, I am sure that the reason that it won is that it is under threat from HS2. Those who voted for our tree clearly care about the protection of our natural environment, and I am truly grateful to them for showing their concern. This is surely a clear message to the Government that it should demonstrate a better balance between the needs of our economy and the protection of our natural heritage. It would be perfectly possible to build HS2 without destroying our tree and many others, and the Government needs to think again.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin added:
“The fact the Cubbington Pear has beaten a collection of the most famous and historically significant trees in England, shows the strength of public feeling against the monstrous natural destruction HS2 would wreak. Whichever cost you look at, be that the devastating cost to the natural environment, the ever-spiralling financial cost, the human cost to the affected communities, or the massive opportunity cost which will see other spending priorities squeezed out for decades, the cost of HS2 is far too great.”
“For no fathomable reason HS2 is being designed for 250mph, which means it can’t really bend to miss sensitive sites or communities, which is why HS2 Ltd admit 97 ancient woodlands are under threat from this project.”
The other three winners are; The Suffragette Oak in Glasgow, Peace Tree in Northern Ireland and ‘Survival at the cutting edge’ from Wales
Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust chief executive, said: “These four trees all demonstrate the intrinsic way our lives are linked to the natural world. Sadly, many iconic trees do not have the levels of protection they deserve and this contest highlights the need to ensure they remain for future generations to enjoy and memories to endure.”
All photos of the Cubbington Pear Tree are by Frances Wilmot, unless stated.