Over the new year holiday, our Barrister Paul was in Somerset, where he saw a thriving yew at Nettlecombe, with lots of lower branches cut off. This is unnecessary mutilation designed to keep the yew in check. One of the saddest examples of this practise is the ‘Leaning Yew’ of Llanwenarth Citra, near Abergavenny. Here a branch travels 30 feet in the direction of the lean, desperately trying to touch down, in order to prop the tree up but all efforts are thwarted by it being cut off, meaning that sooner, rather than later, this yew of almost 2,000 years will fall over.
More sympathetic and prudent are the custodians of Cantref, near Brecon who listened to advise after some of their yews were blown down in gales and who will now place wooden props to support the remaining yews, while leading branches are allowed to descend to the ground in order to take root and stabilise the trees. The yew knows what it needs and if we valued them we would help them, protect them and stop vandalising them.
Yews falling over are just one of the excuses for destroying them. With this immortal tree, fallen sections can just be removed or stabilised, leaving the rest to grow and regenerate. It is quite unnecessary to remove the whole tree. Much effort was made to clear the remains of the fallen ancient yew at Llanfoist, including dragging by tractor, burning and poisoning. However despite all this unsuccessful effort, the old stump sprouted a beautiful new young branch. It takes considerable determination to destroy a yew! It is not for nothing that it is known as the Tree of Life. The great yew at Llanwrin, cut down in the 80’s, has regrown, like the yew at the Holy Well of Gwenlais, also in Wales.
Other excuses for wilful and unnecessary destruction and vandalism of our ancient living heritage yews range from tidying the church yard, to stopping yews from obscuring grave stones or making the whole place dark! In recent decades, the healthy old Saxon yew at Cilmery was destroyed for casting too much shadow, while another also in Powys at Cefnllys, was deliberately set fire to and burnt alive like another at Llanelen in Gower. Other yews can be destroyed for a new building extension as at Ashford Carbonnel, or even simply a public toilet! A yew known as the Witch Tree at Hagley in Worcestershire, may have been destroyed for being a ‘pagan’ tree, while one at Uffculme was destroyed for being too old. We need to seriously question our values.
Slowly but surely most of our living heritage of yews will be destroyed, for one spurious reason or another, unless the law is changed. Please sign and share the petition to save the oldest trees in the world!
The God Tree by Janis Fry, is available from Capall Bann
The Ankerwycke Yew, Living Witness to the Magna Carta by Janis Fry with research by A.Meredith, is also available from Capall Bann
Britain's Ancient Yews
Compliled by Janis Fry, author of 'The God Tree', published by Capall Bann.
Britain and in particular Wales, has the largest number of ancient yews in the world (157 at the most recent count). Although there are still undiscovered yews, we now believe that in Wales, there are at least 31 yews aged at 2,000 years plus, 11 of 3,000 years plus, 1 at 4,000 years plus and 3 at 5,000 years plus, totalling 46 yews aged at over 2,000 years, in Wales.
In the rest of Britain we have recorded 111 yews aged at over 2,000 years. This total is made up of 75 yews aged at 2,000 years plus, 32 at 3,000 years plus, 3 at 4,000 years plus and 1 at 5,000 years plus.
Numbers of ancient yews for the whole of Britain therefore total at least 157. These figures are based on current information and may expand further. At some of the places listed here, there is more than 1 ancient yew.
Churchyard yews aged 5,000 years plus (3 yews) Defynnog, Brecon
Churchyard Yews aged 5,000 years plus (1 yew) Fortingall, Scotland
Churchyard Yews aged 4,000 years plus (3 yews) Crowhurst, Surrey
Churchyard Yews aged 3,000 years plus (16 yews) All Hallows, Dorset
Long Sutton, Hampshire
Lytchett Matravers, Dorset
The Yew Tree King by CK, available in print from The-Greenman-Man website
Churchyard Yews aged 2,000 years plus (45 yews) Acton Scott, Shropshire
Ankerwycke, near Runnymede, Buckinghamshire
Buckland in Dover, Kent
Darley Dale, Derbyshire
Hope Bagot, Shropshire
Mid Lavant, Sussex
Old Enton, Surrey
Overton on Dee, Shropshire
Prior’s Dean, Hampshire
West Tisted, Hampshire
Rycote Manor, Oxfordshire
South Hayling, Hampshire
Tettenhall, West Midlands
Zeal Monachorum, Devon
Yews not in churchyards, (non churchyard yews), in the whole of
Britain, aged 3,000 years plus (16 yews) All Hallows, Dorset. One 30 ft. yew outside churchyard.
Boulsbury Farm, near Martin’s Wood, Hampshire
Bodcott Farm, near Moccas Park, Herefordshire
Borrowdale, Lake District. National Trust
Bulbarrow Hill, Woolland, Dorset. On ancient barrow
Druids Grove, Surrey
Garnons Wood, nr. Mansell Gamage, Herefordshire
Keffold’s Farm, Haslemere, Sussex. Possible monastery site
Kentchurch, Herefordshire. Private estate. 3 yews
Knowlton Circles, Dorset. Henge monument
Old Colwall, Herefordshire
Whitbury Hillfort, Dorset
Non Churchyard Yews in Wales aged 2,000 years plus (10 yews) Caer Alyn, Llay, near Wrexham, Clwyd. Edge of field
Dolfor, Newtown, Powys. 2 yews on hillside
Dolforwyn Castle, Yew tree cottage, Welshpool, Powys. Next to well
Pantllidw, Machynlleth, Powys
Pantybeudy, Llangeithio, Ceredigion
Ty Illtyd, Llanhamlach, near Brecon, Powys. 3 yews on hillside
Yew tree Farm, Discoed, Offas Dyke, Powys/Herefordshire border
Non Churchyard Yews in the rest of Britain aged 2,000 years plus (30
yews) Askerswell, Dorset
Barlavington Farm, Sussex
Coldred, Kent. On burial mound opposite church
Churchill, Worcester, Kidderminster area. Old Church site
Compton Dando, Wandsdyke, Somerset. On dyke
Ducks Nest Longbarrow, Dorset. Private land
Fountains Abbey, Ripon, Yorkshire. National Trust
Great Frazer Yew, above Loch Ness
Great Yews, Odstock, Wiltshire. Yew grove
Hanchurch, Stafforshire. Near a house called ‘The Yew Trees’
Holywell, Eardisley, Herefordshire. SSSI
Jays Copse, Haslemere. Surrey. Boundary marker tree
King Yew, Eastwood, Tiddenham Chase, Gloucestershire
Kyre Park, Worcestershire
Lydney Park, Gloucestershire
Lorton, Kendal, Cumbria. Wordsworth’s Tree. By stream in field
Marston Bigot, Somerset. Private land
Merdon Castle, Winchester, Hampshire
Middleton Scriven, Shropshire. 2 yews in field opposite church
Newlands Corner, Surrey
Old Enton, near Godalming, Surrey. Possible hillfort
Old Church, Ullswater, Cumbria. Hotel grounds
Rye Hill, near Knowlton Circles, Dorset. On farmland
Snoddington Manor Farm, Tidworth, Hampshire
Temple Farm, Longleat, Wiltshire
Yew tree knob, Wintershall private estate, Bramley, Guildford, Surrey
White house Copse, Cranbourne, Dorset
Yew Tree Field, Damerham, Dorset
Janis Fry started the petition
"UK Parliament: Legal protection for ancient yew trees" in September 2018 which closed after 30 days having reached the target of over 10,000 signatures within that time. It is now thought prudent to re open this petition. Please sign the petition here.