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Yew only live twice

Matthew Chatfield
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The Ranger was striding out on the office Christmas Walk recently – an annual pilgrimage that usually takes the form of a morning of walking, presentations and discussions of the year’s countryside issues – very interesting, of course – followed by splendid feed at a local pub, and then a walk back again (for most). This year it was the turn of the rather lovely Red Lion pub in Freshwater, right next to the picturesque All Saints Church. One of the projects featured was the Histree Trail, a lottery-funded project “looking for information regarding the impressive trees of the Isle of Wight and the stories that go with them“. Project officer Tina Williamson told the team about some of the trees in the churchyard, including the magnificent yew, one of very few multi-stemmed yews in Island churchyards. The Ranger was mindful of the tales told of yews on this blog by the Wildlife Gardener. This one might not be quite as old as the Tandridge Yew, but it’s still an impressive veteran.

All Saints Church, Freshwater IW

Yes, that’s a big tree. This splendid old tree is huge, and likely to outlive all of us. Yet it is also, like many old trees, in the process of dying. A view of the tree from another angle shows that the crown is looking a bit thin – something’s not quite right there.

All Saints Church, Freshwater IW

There’s something very encouraging in the picture, too – did you spot it? It seems as though the parish of Freshwater is also fond of their tree, and is mindful that even this Methuselah will eventually pass away. So in the foreground you will see that they have planted another – as yet still very small. Tina told the walking party that this was a Millennium Tree, planted in the year 2000 to mark the millennium. Appropriately enough, it has every chance of being there to see in the next millennium in 3000 – although by then its presumed progenitor, the existing huge yew, will probably (only probably) have finally gone. What feet have passed along the path beneath the ancient yew of Freshwater? What eyes will look on its successor a thousand years from now? These long-lived trees put our brief lives into perspective, and we do well to care for them.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

2 thoughts on “Yew only live twice

  • NChatfield

    The Churchyard at Painswick in Gloucestershire
    displays yews in a complementary way to Freshwater by having a large number (??80 plus) of yews all of which are clipped to a regular shape. This mammoth task is celebrated yearly with a big festival. The clippings are sent off to the place which extracts the chemical, present in small amounts in yews, which can benefit certain cancer patients. Are yews which can be clipped the same sort of tree as the Freshwater veteran or something completely different ?

    The Ranger responds: it’s the same tree alright, although the extraction of the medical ingredient is a slightly more complex issue, as more than one species of yew can provide it. See this post for more detail on that interesting story.

  • The Virtual Ranger

    Aaah! Yews are very special! The three little yews planted in our mixed hedgerow have so far survived. Good on Freshwater parish council to plant another one.


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