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Fragmented Yews in Churchyards

Fragmented Yew in Churchyards The Process of Fragmentation Fragmentation Creating 2 Trees
Interpretation of Irregular Fragments Yews on Mounds Conclusion

Definition

“Fragmented Yew” has become the term commonly used to describe a yew of which only a fragment (or several fragments) of the original tree remains. In the past, these trees have understandably been described as shattered, broken, split, damaged, ruined, wrecked or decayed. While such words provide an accurate description, they can too readily be interpreted as implying something no longer of worth. The reality is that fragmented yews are some of our oldest trees, often in the greatest need of protection because of their unusual and sometimes unsound appearance. The Tree Council is to be congratulated for including no fewer than 3 fragmented yews in their list of '50 Great British Trees' chosen in celebration of the Queen's jubilee year.

3 of the 50 Great British Trees

These are found at Fortingall, Llangernyw and Ashbrittle and are all male trees.

The yew at Fortingall in Scotland is considered by many to be the oldest tree in Britain, and possibly Europe too. An engraving of 1744 from Pennant’s Tour in Scotland shows this giant yew, with a girth above 55', already broken into two fragments. The 1822 engraving in J.G.Strutt’s Sylva Britannica reveals the effects of time, weather and souvenir hunters. A wall and railings around the yew now allow the fragments to grow almost unimpeded, though in 2001 one of them was observed to be growing so vigorously it was beginning to push part of the protecting wall outwards.

The Fortingall Yew 1744
The Fortingall Yew 1744
The Fortingall Yew 1822
The Fortingall Yew 1822
The Fortingall Yew 2001 © Tim Hills
The Fortingall Yew 2001 © Tim Hills

One of the oldest yews in Wales is found at Llangernyw in Conwy. Until recently an oil tank stood in the space between the fragments, on the spot where the original tree once grew. Realisation that this was one of Wales’s oldest trees encouraged the authorities to site the tank elsewhere. It is unfortunate that much of the dead wood, a source of evidence especially useful to researcher and dendrochronologist, has been removed.

The Llangernyw Yew © Tim Hills
The Llangernyw Yew © Tim Hills

Ashbrittle in Devon is undoubtedly a site of great antiquity, and its yew grows on a tumulus SE of the church. The tree consists of a central stem surrounded by 6 others, the largest girthing 16’, evidence that this tree probably fragmented many centuries ago. The circumference of the entire tree is above 40’, a measure of the powerful presence of this awesome yew. 

The Ashbrittle Yew © Tim Hills
The Ashbrittle Yew © Tim Hills

Fragmented Yew in Churchyards The Process of Fragmentation Fragmentation Creating 2 Trees
Interpretation of Irregular Fragments Yews on Mounds Conclusion