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The Process of Fragmentation

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

The process of fragmentation

Yews in churchyards are unlikely to be left to grow naturally. The oldest specimens will rarely have the appearance of a ‘standard’ tree, with its cylindrical trunk, tall leading central branch and many lateral branches. It is often the removal of one of these substantial lateral branches, perhaps where it is interfering with access to the church or to graves, that creates a weakness in the tree and begins the process of hollowing. This frequently leads to the classic ‘horse shoe’ shaped hollow yew. Without a complete circle of growth the forces on the tree inevitably cause it to lean outwards, as shown in this example at Tillington in Sussex. In this instance metal rods prevent the trunk from splitting further apart and fragmenting.

The Tillington Yew © Tim Hills
The Tillington Yew © Tim Hills

Single fragment examples

At Baschurch in Shropshire only a small section of the original tree is alive. An ingenious way to support this living fragment has been found by setting the dead section in concrete and encircling the whole with an iron band. Although yew decays slowly this can only be a temporary measure and a prop might eventually be needed to support the living fragment.

The Baschurch Yew © Tim Hills
The Baschurch Yew © Tim Hills

Three of the ancient yews growing at Molash in Kent are featured in this article. This example once girthed over 20'. One side has been reduced to a sawn off stump, while the surviving fragment girths about 12'.

Yew at Molash © Tim Hills
Yew at Molash © Tim Hills

The yew fragments at Staunton in Gloucestershire and Discoed in Powys each girth above 33'. We can only wonder at their former size and appearance, but can be sure they are among the oldest in England and Wales. The crack down the centre of the Staunton Yew indicates where it is likely to eventually split and become two fragments.

The Staunton Yew © Tim Hills
The Staunton Yew © Tim Hills
The Discoed Yew © Tim Hills
The Discoed Yew © Tim Hills

The Rotherfield Yew in Sussex is reluctant to split completely into two fragments. What we see may only be a small fraction of the original circle of growth, but the 13 props behind it are a clear indication of the esteem in which this fragmented tree is held. The church guide describes it as “a miracle of nature that so much can be supported on so little”.

The Rotherfield Yew © Tim Hills
The Rotherfield Yew © Tim Hills

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