ENVIRONMENT: First Climate Change Champion named as ‘Tree Oscars’ return

By Bill Heaney

The annual ‘Tree Oscars’ to recognise Scotland’s finest forests and woodlands have named their first Climate Change Champion – just weeks before COP26 comes to Glasgow.

Unsurprisingly, SNP controlled West Dunbartonshire Council were not amongst the oscar winners given their brutal felling of valued trees earlier this year at Garshake in Dumbarton.

And the cutting back to the ground of the beautiful hawthorn hedge on the edge of the new Dumbarton Cemetery at Garshake Road.

Cllr ‘Lumberjon’ Jonathan McColl, the SNP leader, refused to comment on this, yet another highly regrettable error by his administration.

However the community will be watching out for the planning committee’s decision on whether to cut down a number of “magnificent” trees at Clerkhill convent in the West End, where a new residential development is being planned.

The hawthorn hedge which was brutally chopped down by the Council at Garshake Road.

Picture by Bill Heaney

Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill, near Straiton, Ayrshire – owned by Andrew and Lynne Sinclair – won the new award, sponsored by CarbonStore, as Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards returned after a Covid-cancellation in 2020.

Professor Chris Quine, Chief Scientist at Forest Research, who led the team assessing the Climate Change Champion entries, said: “The judges were very keen to find a worthy winner for the new award and we certainly did find one, in Balbeg Estate.

“Bennan Hill was a well-planned and well-executed case study, drawing on guidance and expert knowledge to address the climate emergency by establishing trees to sequester carbon and contribute to a decarbonised future.

“Even more noteworthy was the way the estate demonstrated an integrated approach to tackling climate change throughout its activities with actions relating to mitigation, adaptation and knowledge exchange.  The owners demonstrated a strong commitment and a real consistency of vision which made this site a very worthy champion.”

The other 2021 winners ranged from a small playgroup in Perth and a high school in Pitlochry – whose mascot Scotty the Squirrel collected their prize – to Scotland’s largest landowner, Anders Holch Povlsen, who won the New Native Woods Award for Killiehuntly Woodland in the Cairngorms. Mr Povlsen said the success was based on “a big team effort” and added: “We very much appreciate this recognition and I’m very proud.”

Thomas MacDonell, Director of Conservation at Wildland Ltd, who led the project, said it was “absolutely fantastic” to win what he described as “the premier forestry awards”. He added: “This could not have happened without Anders Holch Povlsen, who had the vision and courage to stick by us.”

It was a year of firsts – the first Climate Change Champion prize, the first time the Awards were held online in almost 40 years – and the first award for early years woodland education.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, announced the schools and early years prizes for Pitlochry High School and Perth Outdoor Playgroup. She said: “I’m delighted to be able to support these fantastic Awards again, and to see young people in Scotland, from nursery through to secondary school, engaging with trees and nature in such a positive way.  

“In the year that COP26 comes to Scotland, it’s important that our schools and early years settings continue to encourage young people to enjoy and value our woodlands. By learning about woodlands, taking part in activities, and sometimes also by planting new trees and protecting our woodlands, our young people are creating a greener, better future for Scotland. Congratulations to all the awards winners and everyone involved in celebrating the very best woodlands in Scotland.”

Angela Douglas, Executive Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods, said: “The high standard and number of entries in the Schools Award made it hard for judges to separate schools and early years settings. As a result the Outdoor & Woodland Learning Scotland team at Scottish Forestry agreed to provide an early years trophy – a beautiful carved wooden acorn reflecting the saying ‘From little acorns mighty oaks grow’ – and prize money.”

The number and quality of entries for the 2021 awards was very strong overall, Angela Douglas added.

“The strength of the awards depends on maintaining very high standards and recognising entries that truly deserve the title ‘finest woods’,” she said. “After the Covid cancellation in 2020, I’m delighted we have been able to bounce back with such a high-quality programme – and I would especially like to thank our 23 volunteer judges who put in so much work in difficult circumstances to ensure the quality standard was maintained.”

The Climate Change Champion Award was selected from entrants to other categories who specified that they would also like to be considered for the prize. They had to show that their woodland had contributed to mitigating climate change, adapted to the changing climate or raised awareness about the issue.

“We had a strong winner and two strong highly commended entries in this new category, which is so important for any forest or woodland – and us all,” said Angela Douglas.

Balbeg Estate, winner of the Climate Change Champion Award, also won the Quality Timber Award and John Kennedy Trophy for Multi-purpose forestry for a whole forest or estate.

The two Climate Change Champion runners-up were Borders Forest Trust’s ecological restoration project at Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire (also Highly Commended behind Killiehuntly in the New Native Woods category) and Aylsa Leslie (with forestry consultant Simon Jacyna) for Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire – also winner of the Quality Timber Award for silvicultural excellence in a single stand or compartment of trees, or small wood.

There was wide geographical coverage, with Laide and Aultbea Community Woodland in Ross-shire winning the Small Community Woodland Group Award. Judges were “impressed by the endeavour and enthusiasm” of the group and noted that the local community was heavily engaged in “supporting and managing the woodland with tangible benefits – recreation, practical hands-on experience and enjoyment”.

Craigmillar Castle Park in Edinburgh, which won the Large Community Woodland Group prize, was praised by judges for its community engagement programme, run by Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust. Judges also said: “It has been notable how valuable the woodland has been to the local community during lockdown, providing an attractive local greenspace which has helped greatly with physical and mental wellbeing.”

In the Farm Woodland Awards, the Young People’s Award went to James and Nikki Yoxall from Howemill, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire – “a wonderful example of a unique integration of trees and farming” – while the overall Farm Woodland Award went to Wendy Seel and Anne Taylor at North Tillydaff, Midmar, Aberdeenshire. Runners-up in the category were spread widely, from Skye to Stirling and Peterhead.

The New Commercial Woodland award (part of the Quality Timber Awards) went to the large Larriston Forest scheme near Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders


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