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The ancient yew tree shown in today's photograph is estimated to be about 1500 years old. It stands in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, next to the medieval church of St Bartholomew, the oldest part of which dates from about 1230. The tree must have been standing for 700 hundred years when the church was begun, and it is remarkable that it still lives today. Or perhaps not so remarkable when we consider that, in countries north of the Mediterranean, England is second only to Greece in the number of ancient trees (those that are several hundred years old) to be found within its borders.
Much Marcle's tree is justly renowned, not only for its age, but for its girth of 31 feet at a point 4 feet 6 inches above the ground. The tree's trunk, as you can see from the photograph, is hollow, and it is provided with seating that can support several people. In recent years the tree was pruned for the first time in a long time. Six tons of dead and unnecessary timber was removed. When we were there the other day - our third or fourth visit over the years to this interesting village - I noticed a heavy chain wrapped around the tree at a height of twelve or fifteen feet. Its purpose may have been to keep the branches from drooping down to the ground. In a few places it was in the process of being absorbed into the limbs so it must have been there for quite a while.
Ancient yews, particularly those in churchyards have long been noted and revered. In the seventeenth century John Evelyn and John Aubrey wrote about them, and travel writers and antiquarians continued to do so in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century Vaughan Cornish's "Churchyard Yews" (1946) and E.W. Swanton's "The Yew Trees of England" (1958) raised their profile considerably. However, it was "The Sacred Yew" (1994) by Anand Chetan and Diana Brueton (leaning heavily on the work of Allen Meredith) that gained the attention of the media. It catalogued 404 trees that were estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. In 2003 the Ancient Yew Group was formed and continued the documentation of the tree. It has noted 837 "ancient, veteran or significant" yews in England and Wales. Further details about this group and much fascinating information of yew trees can be found on their website.
photograph and text © Tony Boughen
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/30
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On