Each month we feature an ancient British tree. This month the Ancient Tree Forum introduces us to the Penalt Yew, Monmouthshire
Yew trees are an iconic part of our landscape, playing a role in communities up and down the country. Why do we find so many in our churchyards? According to the Ancient Yew Group, there are three main religious themes associated with yew trees around the world and in the UK it is death and burial that takes precedence.
It is possible that some yews could even pre-date the churches they abut. Our most well known, the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, is said to be as much as 3,000 years old. In this column we focus on a lesser known specimen, the Penalt Yew in Monmouthshire. Wales is particularly abundant in churchyard yews. The Penalt Yew has a girth of nearly 7m and is classed as an ancient yew on the Ancient Tree Inventory.
Yet it could have met an untimely end according to the Ancient Yew Group’s directory. Writing in his parish guide in 1940, the then vicar Rev du Heaume, recorded that: “It had a narrow escape on July 6th, 1939, when it was discovered to be on fire and but for the speedy intervention of the vicar and Miss Amphlett, the people’s warden, who immediately summoned the fire brigade, it would have been burned to the ground and in all possibility, taken the church nearby with it. But with the fi remen’s help, the raging fi re in the hollow trunk was extinguished.” From Penallt Revisited ed VF Kilmer 2009.
The Ancient Yew Group has been compiling information for nearly 20 years, raising awareness of the impor tance of yews, campaigning for better protection and providing a huge body of evidence of their ongoing survival. Over 2,300 sites have been listed to date.
The ‘We Love Yew’ organisation has also recently been established which even offers grant funding to support the upkeep of a yew tree, providing certain conditions are met. For further information visit www.weloveyew.org and
To support the Woodland Trust’s Very Important Trees campaign, which is calling for a register for all Trees of National Special Interest go to www.wodoladntrust.org.uk/vitrees