Caring for God’s trees

Ancient yews, of which there are many in Wales, are often associated with ancient, pre-Christian burial grounds. They hold a particular fascination as a legacy from distant ancestors. Recently Ancient Tree Hunt volunteer verifier, Rob McBride, called by Pennant Melangell, Powys to make the acquaintance of its fabulous ancient yew.

The Ancient yew at Pennant-Melangell parish church, Wales is more than 8m in girth

Ancient yew at Pennant-Melangell parish church, Wales

However, this ancient yew happens to spread its crown outside the churchyard boundary into a neighbouring field. Rob was alarmed to discover that the farmer was proposing to take his chainsaw to some of the boughs, taking them right back to near the trunk, because yew foliage is highly poisonous to stock. In non-specialist hands this could have potentially very serious consequences for one of the UK’s most ancient of ancient trees. Fortunately Rob persuaded the farmer to accept some fencing just beyond the drip line of the yew, so that the tree and the stock could continue to exist alongside each other in peace.

This case illustrates clearly what is needed for the long term care of nationally important trees:

  • First of all there is a need for much greater awareness of their value– this is a priceless yew that cannot be replaced except over thousands of years.
  • Secondly we need specialist people on hand who can advise and negotiate the right sort of care so that none of these trees are lost through lack of understanding and poor practice.
  • And thirdly we need some sort of small funding source so that owners can be incentivised to take the right management action.

For some years in Wales, the Woodland Trust has been campaigning for the new body – Natural Resources Wales (vesting day 1 April 2013) to have the power to provide advice and funding for Wales’ most wrinkly and gnarly of trees.  Only last week, the Senedd in Cardiff discussed the Trust’s petition which was supported by over 5,000 signatures. They agreed to send a letter to Natural Resources Wales to endorse the proposal and to ask for it to be high up on their agenda.

This stage of the campaign coincides with the publication of a new book by the Ancient Tree Forum: “Ancient and other veteran Trees: Further guidance on management”.Essential reading for all tree owners, advisers and practitioners - “Ancient and other veteran Trees: Further guidance on management” is now available.

This small charity works in close partnership with the Woodland Trust. Together, under the editorship of one of today’s leading arboricultural advisors, Dr David Lonsdale, they have produced this authoritative guidance on the special care required for managing ancient and other veteran trees.

Soon perhaps Wales will lead the UK in the care of its nationally important trees. Let us hope that other countries will take up the baton and that the future of our most important trees can be made a bit safer not just for us but for many generations into the future.

Jill Butler, Conservation Adviser (Ancient Trees)


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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30 Responses to Caring for God’s trees

  1. Pingback: Condolences for Wales’ National Tree | Woodland Matters

  2. Pip Pountney says:

    Hello! I ‘thought’ earlier to say that the fence looked rather flimsy when faced with a huge bullock scratching its sides. Also wondered if a dry stone wall wouldn’t be perfect to ensure the protection of this amazing tree. Any funding from WT for this kind of necessary support? If the cattle flatten this fence and get near the tree there will be big problems ,and everyone – especially this ancient tree will suffer.

  3. Rob McBride says:

    Hi Pip, The ‘fencing’ as is shown here is just for marking out purposes. There will be a stronger fence when the ‘rails’ have been added. Rob McBride

  4. Pip Pountney says:

    Really great idea and well done on successful negotiation. Dare I say that the fence looks awfully flimsy? – one hefty bullock scratching itself could bring it down. Is any funding available to offer a more solid barrier? A dry stone wall would be attractive, permanent and solid enough to withstand livestock leaning on it. Once a part of the fence comes down the cattle will follow one another and the outcome could be really bad.

    • You are absolutely right, Pip, the fence is looking flimsy as it wasnt possible to finish it on the day and then the snow came…….it will be finished when Rob can get back up there. A wall would be a longer term solution but speed was the essence of the day to demonstrate commitment.

    • Rob McBride says:

      Hi Pip, The ‘fencing’ as is shown here is just for marking out purposes. There will be a stronger fence when the ‘rails’ have been added. Rob McBride

  5. We have an ancient yew in the church yard of St Michael’s, Discoed in Powys and therefore value the work done on ancient tree conservation. Last week Caring for God’s Acre brought BBC Radio Wales to Discoed. We look forward to hearing the programme soon.

    • Let us know when it’s going to be on, that sounds a realty interesting programme. Churchyards are tricky as a lot of compromises are necessary to keep all the parties happy.

    • That is great news that there is going to be a programme about important yews in churchyards. Please post again when you know the date and time of it. In the meantime I will also say that churchyards are often host to many important trees other than yews and I hope we can extend the general principles to all ancient and other trees of special interest.

  6. Di Howard says:

    How poisonous is growing yew to livestock? A stray sheep ate some young newly planted Taus of mine and ran off happily the next day,

    • I understand that it is very poisonous to stock. So I would take care especially in winter and bad weather when the animals may want to eat a lot more than is good for them.

  7. Michele Rist says:

    Well Done. We need more people around the country to be thoughtful and knowledgeable and also be in a position to communicate.

  8. Michael Karpaty says:

    Nice one Rob. It just goes to show that a little thought and consideration can go a long way.

  9. Michael Karpaty says:

    Nice one Rob.It just goes to show that a little thought and understanding goes a long way.

  10. chris morley says:

    nice yew at lacock in wilts,not many folk know that yews where allways planted when new shaft was sunk for mining,though most of these trees survive they are only 150 years old perhaps,i appeal to anyone who loves trees to collect seeds from native trees and plant em antwhere you can think of,there are lots of little place where a tree would left alone just look ,i have been doing this for years whereever i go my work time,benefit all,if more folk did this it would make a REAL difference

    • Thanks Chris for the information on yews and mining – very intersting. We would love it if everyone did as you were and spread native tree seeds around a bit more! We often encourage people to read the book called ‘The man who planted trees’ to get some inspiration.

  11. Zack Bradley-Deacon says:

    Great story, well done Rob!
    Let’s hope there are other understanding land owners out there prepared to lose a little to save a lot!

    • Thanks for posting Zack. Its a good point that the farmer in this case was willing to give a bit of space to the tree. We must hope that other landowners will see the value in very important trees and the benefits that they bring others and are prepared to give a tree a bit of space. Of course if it was a native deciduous tree a bit of leaf fodder would be adventagous to the stock as well.

  12. randall evans says:

    A fine example of what the Woodland Trust can, and should, do, ie preserve trees at no, or minimal, inconvenience to other stakeholders.

    Well done.

    • Thanks for your comment Randall. You are right in cases like this where a solution can be agreed amicably and there are resources to implement it, what more could one want?

  13. Peter Kyte says:

    Just goes to show that with awareness and negotiation most things can be resolved.
    Well done Rob.

  14. Jennifer Stray says:

    In the end it is down to education and local vigilance. National government cannot be relied upon where woods and forests are at risk.

    • Local people have a very important part to play as you say Jennifer. My great hope is that more local people will become aware of important trees in their local landscape and take action to raise awareness of their value and keep an eye out for them. We would all prefer pro-active awareness and care rather than crying over spilt milk after a tree has been damaged or felled.

  15. Jay Mitchell says:

    Well done Rob. All the best, Jay

    • Thanks Jay, I will pass your comments onto Rob. This is one of the most important trees in the UK -all trees are equal but some are definitely more equal than others and this yew is a case in point. So it is a very, very good job done.

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