Each year, the Belgian Tree of the Year is elected. This is not necessarily the most beautiful or oldest tree, but it is a tree with a special story. Actually ‘pageant’ might not be the right word, because it’s not about beauty or age. However, this title catches your attention, didn’t it? While the winner of 2019, selected by the French side, is competing for the title of European Tree of the Year 2020, in Flanders and Brussels they are encouraging citizens to nominate candidates. I am enjoying the new instagram account boom_van_het_jaar, because the stories contain little stories about trees in Belgium.
Rituals and heritage
Why do I call it a pageant? Rituals in which men and women are chosen to be at the centre of an important celebration in Europe since ancient times. For example, English May Day celebrations always involved the selection of a May Queen and the Green Man. On purpose I give this example, because May Day Celebrations involve also the dance around the May Pole, which was a tree ;).
The aim of the contest is to empower people and get local communities involved in the environmental and local heritage protection. The competition organisers believe that by gathering around a tree, people are more likely to take action again in the future for other environmental causes and for the wellbeing of the community.
If trees could talk …
I’m sure they’d have a lot to say. Their impressive size and age makes them recognizable anchorages that have a visual living link with history, myths and stories. Think about the Ankerwycke Yew. This male tree could be ‘the last surviving witness to the sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years. A Belgian example is the Caesarsboom (Caesar’s Tree), which is a very old tree whose precise age is unknown but is believed to be over 2000 years in age. According to a long-held local legend, Julius Caesar stopped at this tree during his military campaign in the area en route to Britannia in 55 BC, tied his horse to it, and took a nap in the shadow of its foliage.
Some of these blog posts are dedicated to ecolinguistics, which details the interconnection between the environment and human language. In one blog I call to not shy away to write POVS by trees: Changing the Stories We Live By #2: The Forest Sees You. This enhances the idea that trees are also living beings with their own stories. On the website of the European Tree of the Year, they say that trees cannot talk. Hence, we should be their voice. Trees cannot talk, but they can communicate. Later I’ll write a blog which will satisfy the chemistry lovers here: how trees communicate by smells (and the scientific evidence). But yes, what I want to encourage is to write stories about trees, but also stories by or from trees. Trees are not ‘dead’ or objects. They are subjects too.
The contest started in Czech Republic
The European Tree of the Year contest originated in 2011. It was inspired by the popular Tree of the Year contest, which has been organised in the Czech Republic by the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation for many years. The European round is a finale consisting of the winners of the national rounds.
The benefits of this contest:
There are now 16 contestants. I believe that Belgium joined the contest in 2015, because they had their first pageant queen in 2014:
The other countries that compete (I added a link to the national website, if I found it):
- Czech Republic
- Republic of Croatia
- The Netherlands
- Russian Federation
- The United Kingdom
I wonder: where are Austria, Germany and the Nordic countries?
The winners of this Eurovision for Trees:
- 2020 – “Guardian of the Flooded Village” – Czech Republic
- 2019 – “The Almond Tree of the Snowy Hill in Pécs” – Hungary
- 2018 – “Whistler cork oak tree” – Portugal
- 2017 – “Oak Józef” – Poland
- 2016 – “The oldest tree of Bátaszék” – Hungary
- 2015 – “Oak tree on a football field” – Estonia
- 2014 – “The Old Elm” – Bulgaria
- 2013 – “Plane tree in Eger” – Hungary
- 2012 – “The Old Lime Tree of Felsőmocsolád” – Hungary
- 2011 – “Lime in Leliceni” – Romania
It seems a a popularity test like Eurovision; because the tree with the most votes win. I am not sure if that’s fair for the tree; but it helps the visibility of the contest and the whole idea of the importance of the natural heritage.
Towards a World Tree of the Year
In 2016 the Asian Tree of the Year started in Sri Lanka. In 2017, India, Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore have joined Sri Lanka into the competition. Perhaps this is interesting for readers based in Asia: https://www.asiantreeoftheyear.com/. I am surprised that Japan is not participating. Here is the list of the Asian contestants:
- India, organised by N Ranga Rao & Sons (NRRS)
- Malaysia, organised by ‘GreenMan’ Matthias Gelber
- Nepal, organised by the Center for Research and Sustainable Development Nepal
- Singapore, organised by the Anagami Group
- Sri Lanka, organised by The Carbon Consulting Company
Also cities in North-America and in Australia start to organise Tree Pageants. I am not sure about each national contest, but there are prices connected to finding a tree. In Belgium, they promise 2500 euros for the landowner (and the person who nominated it) to take care of the tree, to pay for promotional materials and other things.
Back to my own roots.
Next time I will share my own personal search for a candidate for the Belgian Tree of the Year 2020. I’ve still six weeks left ;). Let me know if you are also a ‘tree story scout’. It would be fun to read about your search story too.