My tree of the year: a story of the fight for fairness

I have to declare my hand upfront. I’ll be voting for the Tolpuddle Martyrs tree in Dorset in the Woodland Trust’s quest to find the UK’s tree of the year. It’s a tree where the birth of a revolution began to improve the plight of workers in the country and factories across the land.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs tree and seat. The seat was given in 1934 by Sir Ernest Debenham to commemorate the martyrs condemned to transportation in 1834.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs tree and seat. The seat was given in 1934 by Sir Ernest Debenham to commemorate the martyrs condemned to transportation in 1834.

There are some cracking entries on this shortlist of twenty. We all love a good list, ticking off the trees that we might have visited and going for a quick google to find out more about them.

Over the generations trees have helped to shape the history of the nations of the UK. The oldest of the old have witnessed dramatic events and they have managed to survive the agricultural age and the rush to industrialisation. We now, rightly, value the ancient trees that are dotted through our landscape though they still lack the protection that they deserve.

I have been to the sleepy village of Tolpuddle in Dorset many times. On a small patch of green stands the Sycamore tree where history was made. A group of agricultural labourers in the 1830s, fed up with the poor wages they earned, gathered to discuss and debate what they should do. Living conditions were tough, very tough, so they went to see the local squire to ask for some more money. The power of the establishment came down on them hard and they were found guilty of illegally organising and sent to Australia.

Ten years ago the National Trust, which now owns this tree (together with tens of thousands of ancient trees and two other trees on the list of twenty), dated this tree (it’s at least 330 years old), working out how old it would have been when the labourers met under the tree to debate how they could improve their families fortunes.

That’s why this special tree gets my vote – it symbolises the age old struggle for fair pay and better working conditions and shows the important place that trees occupy in rich social history. Much of this debate now might happen via social media or in the virtual world but this tree shows the power of conversation.

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