Controversial tree in Rostrevor crowned Northern Ireland’s tree of the year

A notorious oak tree in Rostrevor has been named Northern Ireland’s tree of the year.

Tree in County Down crowned Northern Ireland’s tree of the year

In a competition organised by the Woodland Trust, a 200-year-old oak tree in Rostrevor earned 950 votes for the title of Northern Ireland’s “tree of the year,” beating five other trees. Regional winners will go on to enter a UK-wide competition.

The Rostrevor oak tree managed to first hit the headlines when earlier this year it became part of a major planning permission dispute in the region.

The “Invisible Tree”

The Invisible Tree in Rostrevor
Credit: @newrytimes / Instagram

The tree, located at the entrance of Rostrevor Oak Wood in County Down, gained notoriety as it was christened the “Invisible Tree” by environmental activists.

Environmental activists dubbed the oak tree with this name, which would prove to be ironic, after it first became known that the tree in question was curiously omitted from an impact assessment, which was done for a proposed planning development in the region.

The proposed development, if passed, would involve the construction of an apartment complex and a nursing home on a location where a hotel once stood and a location where the oak tree calls home.

The environmental activists put forth the argument that the proposed development was unacceptable as it proposed that the construction would take place in the area situated to Carlingford Lough and Rostrevor Wood which both currently have a protected status and have also been identified as areas of special scientific interest.

Campaigning to save the oak tree

Tree in County Down crowned tree of the year for Northern Ireland
Credit: @rostrevor_rare / Instagram

The group leading the charge to campaign against the proposed development is called Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment (RARE) and they played an instrumental part in the 200-year-old tree’s victory as Northern Ireland’s tree of the year as they were responsible for the nomination of the tree in the competition.

Speaking on the subject, RARE said, “For generations the tree has greeted visitors to this magnificent woodland and provided a habitat for hundreds of species, including the welcome return of the red squirrel. Sadly, the existence of this tree was erased in a survey and report supporting the construction of apartment blocks and an underground car park within a few metres of its roots and branches.”

As previously mentioned above the most controversial factor of the impact assessment for the proposed planning development was the fact that the tree itself was completely omitted from it as if the tree didn’t already exist and could potentially cause problems with any potential construction work that may be undertaken as part of the proposed development plan. According to RARE themselves “its existence was erased”.

It was this specific factor that spurned on RARE to act and get involved by nominating the tree for Northern Ireland’s tree of the year award to spread awareness for their campaign to save the invisible tree.

When the tree was nominated, the fact that it had at first been completely overlooked ironically meant that it ended up having a lot of focus then placed upon it as it was thrust into the limelight.

Support takes root worldwide

Credit: @rostrevor_rare / Instagram

As the campaign to save “the invisible tree” become more widespread visitors from across the world began to express and show their support for the campaign led by RARE. The campaign then gained further strength as famous figures such as musicians Peggy Seeger and Moya Brennan of Clannad fame lent their name in support as an online petition was also launched.

The director of Woodland Trust Ian McCurley praised the efforts by RARE to achieve recognition and victory for the tree through their nomination and said: “Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment group (RARE)… worked tirelessly to put their tree, and indeed trees in general, firmly on the map.”

Future unknown

The future is unknown for this tree in Northern Ireland
@rostrevor_rare / Instagram

While activists will be happy to see that the tree has enjoyed the recent success which has propelled it into the headlines generating quite a bit of awareness, they will still be worried as its future remains unclear after a recent judicial review into the decision to allow planning permission proved to be unsuccessful.

The planned construction of the nursing home and apartments complex was approved by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

It can’t be denied however that by winning the award, its chances of survival have increased. The story of the 200-year-old Rostrevor oak tree isn’t over just yet, and one can imagine that it will continue to cause controversy for some time to come.