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A sycamore tree saved from felling by Nottinghamshire rebels who slept beneath it, and a Monterey cypress growing on a Welsh beach that was also protected by people’s passion for trees, are among 10 contenders for Britain’s Tree of the Year 2021.

Public voting is open for the Woodland Trust’s annual contest which the charity hopes will highlight the lack of legal protection for ancient and much-loved trees in Britain.

Last year’s winner, the Happy Man Tree – a London plane tree on a Hackney street – was felled because of redevelopment despite a public campaign to save it.

But two of this year’s contenders have a more felicitous recent history. In Newark, the local council’s extension to a car park threatened four graceful sycamores but residents forced a rethink after spending nights sleeping beneath the trees to protect them.

On Scar Rock at Saundersfoot beach, Pembrokeshire, a Monterey cypress planted in January 1938 and now claimed to be dangerous, was given a reprieve for a year after local people hailed it as Saundersfoot’s Eiffel Tower. The community has a year to carry out surgery to make it safe, with one tree expert judging that it could live for another 40 years despite its precipitous position.

“Tree of the Year has a serious message,” said Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust. “Many of our oldest and most special trees in the UK have no form of legal protection. It’s time that our oldest trees got the same protection as our oldest buildings. Our built heritage and our natural heritage are both important and worthy of protection. After all, once they’re gone – ancient trees can never be replaced like for like.”

It has been a bumper autumn for sweet chestnuts and this could be the year for that species with two monster trees on the shortlist: one at Willesley Park golf club, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, with a knotted girth of more than 11 metres, and another at Rydal in the Lake District, whose celebrated twisting trunk would have been enjoyed by William Wordsworth.

Northern Ireland’s contender is an exceptionally curly parasol beech in Parkanaur forest park, County Tyrone, where its knotted branches grow back towards the ground in a glorious tangle.

Scottish entries are a wind-sculpted lone hawthorn beside the water at Kipford, Dalbeattie, and a graceful ash set within a churchyard beside Ettrick Forest in Selkirk.