The magical and protective qualities of the rowan tree has for centuries been recognised in Scotland.

The hawthorn has also played a similar role, but it is the rowan that remains identified as the guardian tree of Scotland. They have long been considered sacred and were often planted close to the door of a house to keep away mischevous ‘wee folk’ or evil influences. Many graveyards are guarded by ranks of rowan, keeping the devil away. The rowan had ceremonial functions as well. During the seasonal festivals of the equinox, Belatane and Samhain (Hallowe’en), rowan twigs were laid across lintels to enhance the good luck and wellbeing of its occupants. Milksheds were often decorated with rowan twigs to protect the milk, while shepherds would herd their sheep under rowan hoops.

The legends of the rowan even go back to Greek mythology: rowans were said to have sprung from the feathers and drops of blood shed by the eagle sent by the gods to recover the stolen cup of Zeus. The eagle fought the demon, but wherever one of its feathers or a drop of blood fell, there sprang a rowan tree. This is why, according to the story, the rowan tree has feather-shaped leaves and vivid red berries.

And so on Sunday, a group of children from the Prestonpans, Cockenzie and Port Seton areas walked to the top of one of the Greenhills, next to Cockenzie Power Station, to plant what has become known as the Greenhills Rowan. It was a truly moving moment as children waited their turn to help dig the hole that would embrace the tree. They then encircled the young tree as they lovingly planted it with their bare hands. I watched as children of different ages co-operated in padding down the soil and laying the turf carefully around the base of the tree. It was then nourished by water from an ancient Celtic well.

The planting took place after a successful re-enactment of the Battle of Prestonpans on the Greenhills. More than a thousand people assembled and held hands, in a collective embrace of the Greenhills. The sun blessed the gathering, and to be sure the Greenhills were seen at their best.

It immediately became a focus of activity, children sitting round it, giving its location a sense of significance. It sits on top of its hill, overlooking the now vanishing power station on the one side and the sprawling grassy area that I have since childhood known as the Greenhills.

And these very same Greenhills are now in real danger. The proposed developments for an energy park will mean the end of this green place. Very likely high fences will be erected and the area where today we can walk our dogs, play with our children, fly our kites, cycle or re-enact past battles will be a large industrial area, almost separating the communities of Prestonpans and Cockenzie and most certainly transforming our coastline. In fact, a much larger area is under threat, with what is left of the battlefield site itself being part of the proposed development.

But now, the Greenhills Rowan sits atop its hill. It is a small and fragile wee tree; but it is a rowan planted with purpose by the hands of the children of the community. And it will now take its guardianship role seriously. Anyone who dares uproot this tree invested with the spiritual power of community risks the consequences. So developers beware!

You see, despite its small and unassuming size, it has a hidden power. Legend tells us rowans are protected by dragons. To destroy a rowan maliciously is, according to legend, to risk provoking the wrath of earth dragons. For this reason, rowan trees are seen also as guardians of the land itself. And so now the Greenhills has its own legendary protector.

But does it matter that some reclaimed land may be lost? It’s well used but arguably not the most attractive green space in the county. But for those who held hands together, the Greenhills, and the surrounding threatened area, is woven with something more than grass.

As I walked to the re-enactment on Sunday, I retraced the footsteps of my childhood memories. I learned to cycle on the Greenhills, I learned how to fly a kite and played football. I sat on the top of the hill overlooking the sea and watched what I remember to be my first truly noticed sunset.

I used to play Cowboys and Indians, and tig on the Greenhills. I remember my father searching for and finding a lost necklace on the hills. They were the place I went to calm down from a rage, to play with friends and walk with my thoughts. When I was a child they were larger in my imagination than they were on the map. And they still are. And these are just a few of my memory footprints. Some I will keep secret.

And I am not the only one, of course. Most, if not all, of those who held hands around the hills on Sunday have their own footprints on this green space. Perhaps to those fortunate enough to live in mansions with elaborate landscaped parklands the Greenhills may seem unimpressive. But for many of us who live in this part of our county, these hills and the coastline that they grace are more than worth defending.

To critics of the effort to save the hills and the battlefield site I would say if Holyrood Park was thus threatened, I would be there too. This wee green space may not be an ancient volcano or have a royal palace on its doorstep, but it is the park of a small old industrial community with a vital role in the quality of its people. Taking it away and turning it into an industrial complex will have an impact much greater than evident on any map.

Already, I have heard talk of visiting the rowan, caring for it. Some have suggested singing by it at Christmas, others of decorating the ground by it with spirals of shells. Special sites become special because of people’s decision to make it so. And the Greenhills are special.

And the gathering on Sunday was the stuff of community. In the aftermath of the referendum I couldn’t but notice that both sides of the argument tended to suggest that resources and money are the root of prosperity. But there is a deeper truth: that our wellbeing and happiness is about more than mere economics, and that the measurement of bankers, city financiers and developers takes no account of the soul of communities and the true essence of wellbeing.

So if you happen to be passing then maybe you can give your regards to the Greenhills Rowan Tree as well. Or just sit by it, and listen carefully. Maybe you’ll hear the dragons; or maybe it will be the sound of communities coming together to protect what they hold dear.