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.
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”.
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)