A campaign to celebrate the heritage of the nation’s ancient yew trees has been launched with the help of the Heritage Lottery Foundation.
Great Britain has the world’s greatest collection of ancient and veteran yews, which play a key role in our physical and cultural landscape. The UK’s oldest living things are almost certainly its impressive population of ancient, veteran and significant yews.
Aged 800 years and older, they’ve witnessed centuries of history. Magna Carta was sealed under the ancient Ankerwycke yew at Runneymede, where Henry VIII later courted Anne Boleyn.
Poets including William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Thomas Hardy all used the yew as a symbol of tragedy and death or, conversely, immortality.
These contrasting themes echo the yew’s medicinal uses; much of the tree is poisonous, but it has also been employed for all number of healing purposes, including in contemporary chemotherapy.
Yew wood was used for arrows and the nails on Viking longboats. The yew has also shaped our political history; it was used for longbows, which arguably made England a major political power in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately this demand also led to the decimation of the yew tree.
Many yews – 217 of the nation’s 272 ancient yews – are in churchyards, and have in many cases been there longer than the church.
The Conservation Foundation’s We Love Yew campaign is helping to communicate our exceptional natural yew heritage, and the great stories from the UK’s hundreds of veteran and ancient yews provide stepping stones for discovering more about the heritage and history of our local area.
After finding out more about their local yews, people taking part in the campaign will learn new skills by finding out how to protect their yews and how to care for young yews.
As part of the campaign, yew saplings have been propagated from ancient trees across the UK that are over a thousand years old. They’re are available free to non-profit groups such as churches and parish councils, or for a small cost to individuals who would like to plant a sapling.
Those (such as church wardens) with responsibility over yews can apply for a small grant of up to £400 to support the care of their yew. Workshops on taking care of your yew will also take place later in the year.
Members of the community can also find a guide on how to research their yew’s story, and can apply for a grant to cover the expenses of communicating it through an exhibition, book, performance or some other creative and engaging medium.
Click here to find out more about the Conservation Foundation’s We Love Yew campaign.
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