Church fears 4,000-year-old tree is dying

by | Apr 27, 2015 | Featured Slider, Latest, News


The stunning Ashbrittle Yew, which stands in the Church of St John the Baptist’s churchyard in Ashbrittle, Somerset, has a girth of 38ft and a vast canopy that arches over the path.

But a churchwarden Charles Doble has warned that it was looking “extremely sick”.

Its central trunk is hollow with six smaller ones branching off it, possible due to disease, and locals fear its wilting branches and falling leaves are signs that it is dying.

Mr Doble said: “The tree is supposed to be the oldest living thing in England and was already fairly mature when Stonehenge was being built.

“Experts say it is 3,500 to 4,000 years old.

“But it’s looking extremely sick at the moment and I’m worried whether the rural church or the yew will die first.”

Tree expert Dr Owen Johnson said the yew, in the village 10 miles west of Taunton, could just be going through a bad patch and was unlikely to die of old age.

He said: “They go through spells where they might look as though they are not thriving, but a few years later they might look fine. They are almost immortal.”

The Ashbrittle Yew is the subject of myth and legend and people believe the mound it grows on is Bronze Age and that a pre-Roman chief is buried there.

It is one of the Tree Register’s “Champion Trees” and one of the top 20 or 30 trees in the country, according to Tim Hills, a founder member of the Ancient Yew Group.

He said a danger for yews was that people might assume they were dying and cut them down.

“Yews go through cycles when they replace their leaves every eight or nine years,” he said. “It may look as though the tree is suffering. But this yew will probably outlive the church.”