European Tree of the Year 2015: A Stadium-bound Estonian Oak

A remarkably-placed oak in Estonia with an unbeatable story has been voted the European Tree of the Year for 2015. This is good news for the IOS, as it is the first time an oak has won the competition (informally referred to as the Eurovision Song Contest for trees), though there have been oaks among the finalists every year since it started. And it is a great achievement for Estonia, a relatively small country that has beaten the mostly larger 13 competing countries—in the first year it entered the competition.

The European Tree of the Year contest originated in 2011. It was inspired by the popular Tree of the Year contest, which has been organized 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 Eastern European roots of the contest are still evident in the list of winners (aside from Estonia’s oak, they have been limes in Romania and Hungary, a Hungarian plane, and an elm in Bulgaria).The purpose of the European Tree of the Year is to highlight the significance of old trees in the natural and cultural heritage and to ensure they receive due care and protection. Unlike other contests, the European

And the top gall-scorer is... Photo: ©Elina Kalm

Tree of the Year doesn't focus on beauty, size, or age but rather on the tree's story and its connection to people. The contest is for trees that have become a part of the wider community.

And what a story Estonia’s entry has: the Quercus robur stands in the middle of a football stadium (for our US readership, that would be the game played with a spherical ball, also known as soccer). The 150-year-old oak in the town of Orisaree, on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, originally had a small sports field next to it, but when the field was enlarged in 1951 to make a stadium, the tree couldn’t be budged, so the stadium went up around it. Legend tells that it stood up to Stalin, whose tractors tried in vain to pull it out of the ground, as the cables all broke when attempts were made to dislodge the oak. So there it stands, providing shade for players, and the cannier ones have learnt how to bounce the ball off the tree trunk in order to dribble 

The original sports field in the distance, in a 1949 photograph. The oak is in the green oval.

past defenders or complete an unexpected pass. Presumably, should a defender ricochet the ball into his team’s goal by mistake, that would not be an own goal, but an ‘oak goal’!

This Stalin-proof stalwart won the heart of voters in this year’s contest, with almost 60,000 of a total of close to 185,000 votes going to the Orisaree oak, narrowly beating Hungary’s great plane of Tata. Estonia has a population of only 1.3 million, small in relation to competitors (Hungary has 10 million) so the success must be due in large part to strong campaigning by Heiki Hanso of the Estonian Chamber of Arborists, who coordinated the contest in Estonia. You can watch him enthuse about the tree in an entertaining video by clicking here. Don’t worry if your Estonian is a little rusty: the video has some great shots of the tree, including footage of it in footballing action and aerial photography, and also some words in English from Rob McBride, tree hunter and big supporter of the European Tree of the Year contest. If nothing else, keep your ears tuned for the Estonian word for oak: ”tamm”! And if you paste in these coordinates in Google Maps, you will get a bird’s eye view of the stadium and its now famous oak: 58°33'32.3"N 23°04'50.2"E.