About Us

Introduction

Founder Members of the Ancient Yew Group

Toby Hindson
Toby has researched the intractable problem of discovering the ages of ancient yews since 1996, producing a number of reports including The Growth Rate of Taxus baccata, which is a theoretical work on the relationship between the growth rate and the physical state of the yew. Toby presented the original version of the latter at the Allen Mitchell Memorial Lectures in 2000, and to Eibenfreunde at Winchester University in 2006, ably interpreted into German by Fred Hageneder. His theories have moved on in the last decade and the yew ageing in The Growth Rate of Taxus baccata has been superseded by a new work Estimating the Ages of Yews in collaboration with Dr. Andy Moir and Dr. Peter Thomas which is published in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry (July 2019). A simplified supporting article on the same subject Finding ages for large specimens of Taxus baccata is available on the AYG website, and both will help to underpin a new version of the AYG Protocols for yew assessment.

His book, Approaching the Immortals which is an observational and philosophical natural history of the yew is nearing completion.

Toby has a good BSc Hons., including an Honours year in research methodology with statistics, and works as a private gardener; thus enjoying both the creative life of the body and of the mind. While firmly scientific in approach, he is driven to do the yew work by a strong poetic and spiritual connection to the natural world, yews in particular.

Tim Hills
Since 1997 Tim has visited more than 2,000 sites in England, Wales and northern France to gather information about their oldest yews.

He has worked to ensure that information gathered by other yew enthusiasts is recorded and available in the public domain for future research. As well as first hand observations and photographs gathered at site visits he has collected a wealth of additional information from historical sources.

Andy McGeeney
The natural world has always held a fascination for me in so many ways. Acknowledging there is only time in life to go deeply into a fraction of what is offered has meant me spending more time being with dragonflies and yew trees rather than anything else in nature.

I was initially drawn to yew trees by the sculptural beauty of the old ones, marvelling over their living antiquity. I have, possibly because of my psychology background, researched and speculated on the reasons why yew trees have been revered from prehistoric to modern times. I first wrote about this in:  The Millennial Tree Resurgence no189 July/August 1998 p34, reprinted as one of their 100 pieces celebrating the Millennium. In 2010 I presented a paper to the international conference in Ponferrada Spain, Tejo, Cultura y Biodiversidad, entitled ‘What does the yew tree mean for us today?’ Published in III Jornades Internationales sobre el Tejo (Taxus baccata L.) ed & publ. AATT Amigos del Tejo las Tejedas 2013 Madrid.

I have exhibited my photographs of the yew in many galleries and festivals both nationally and internationally. Many have been published in books and magazines across the world; for example over 90 of appeared in Fred Hageneder’s Yew A History 2007. A joint project in 2012 with poet Jehanne Mehta and Fred lead to the Heart of Yew book and CD.

I divide my time between wildlife photography, writing and working as an ecotherapist.

Fred Hageneder

Fred Hageneder is a naturalist and a leading author in the ethnobotany (the cultural and spiritual history and meaning of trees. So far, his books have been translated into Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, French, Lithuanian, Polish, Czech and Japanese. He has given lectures in various ecology centres in Germany and Switzerland, and at the Abant Izzet Baysal University in Turkey. In 2009 he was an external reader at the Pacific Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California, USA, for a dissertation on the World Tree in the department of Mythological Studies. He is a founder member of the AYG, and also a member of the Ecocentric Alliance, a network of university professors, ecologists, conservationists and activists advocating ecocentrism and deep green ethics.

His publications include
– `The Spirit of Trees – Science, Symbiosis and Inspiration` (Floris, Edinburgh 2000/2017), bridging natural science, myth, history, and the fine arts;
– `The Heritage of Trees – History, Culture and Symbolism`(Floris, Edinburgh 2001), a deep survey of the role trees have played in ancient culture and religion;
– `The Living Wisdom of Trees`, a major publication on living tree culture and myths around the globe (Duncan Baird, London 2005; Watkins, London 2020), enhanced by stunning photography by award-winning tree photographer Edward Parker;
– `Yew – A History` (Sutton Publishing, Stroud 2007/2011)), presents completely new insights about the Tree of Life or World Tree, and redefines the standards for tree monographs;
– a smaller Yew monograph, `Yew (Botanical Series)`, published by Reaktion Books (London) in 2013, and in paperback in 2022.
– His most recent book, `Healthy Planet`, reaches beyond the woodlands and explores the global life support systems of our home planet.

Fred Hageneder also plays traditional harps and has composed music inspired by various tree species.

Paul Greenwood
Paul Greenwood has been pursuing yew research since 1991 and formed the voluntary group Yew – Trees in 1992 to concentrate on raising awareness

about yews in the northern UK. Apart from an obvious interest in how old yews are Paul particularly concentrates his research on the historical aspects of yew as a sacred tree in Britain and Ireland since the Bronze Age.

As well as being a founder member of the Ancient Yew Group he is also Secretary and a Trustee of the UK registered charity Friends of the Trees. Paul is credited with photographs in the books The Sacred Yew (1994) and Yew – A History (2007) and made a written contribution to Sacred Yew – the Ancient Roots of Beltingham (2007). He has also contributed research to various organisations including the Woodland Trust, Conservation Foundation and Eibenfreunde in Germany; media such as BBC television (including an episode of Inside Out which featured his work for yews in northern England in 2004) and BBC radio. He continues to be consulted by yew enthusiasts throughout Britain and articles by Paul can be viewed on this website. He also is continuing to explore possibilities of raising funding to continue his research.

Russell Ball
Russell Ball is a graduate Botanist and Chartered Biologist with 20 years experience in the tree care industry.


Full Members of the Ancient Yew Group

Peter Norton
Trees have always been a fascinating subject for me, particularly yews, whose smooth boles and sometimes distorted shapes make great subjects for photographs. Over the last thirty years I have explored and photographed extensively in the New Forest. One inclosure near Fritham known as Sloden, has large numbers of yews, and finding so many dead or dying led me to explore why this should be so.

It was during this research that I came across the Ancient Yew Group and after looking at their photographs and articles I came to the conclusion that little recording had been carried out on younger churchyard yews and that I could make a contribution by systematically recording these along the valleys of south Wiltshire.

I have also come across many references to yew trees at non – churchyard sites, including an ornamental garden in Downton, a ruinous castle near Tisbury and Stonehenge Barrows. I look forward to making further discoveries in the coming years and sharing that information with visitors to this website.

Xavier Garcia Marti
I am a member of the consultative committee of the LIFE+ project “Taxus” carried out by the Technological and Forestry Centre of Catalonia (CTFC). I am a founder member of the Iberian Association of Yew and Yew Woods (Asociación de Amigos del Tejo y las Tejedas) and a member of the Terrestrial Ecology Association of Spain (AEET). I have worked for many years in collaboration with the services of the Valencian Natural Park and Valencian Wild Life.

My professional expertise is focused on the development of management plans and conservation programs for forests and endangered habitats in the Mediterranean area. I am interested in the facilitation of ecological processes through ecological restoration. This includes both the ex situ & in situ conservation strategies of habitats. I have a special interest in mesogean pine woods, south Mediterranean juniper woods, mixed lime and maple woods and yew woods. I am also interested in the dynamics of old-growth forests and the encouragement of agroforestry systems.

One of my aims is to focus on the study of forestry ecosystems as priority habitats, in particular degraded areas resulting from forest fires. This work is in the context of promoting actions which increase forest resilience in the face of climate change and other threats. Over the past 20 years I have been researching various aspects of the Taxus genus, specially those concerned with the conservation of fragmented populations.

Paul Wood
My discovery of Taxus baccata L., the Common or European Yew, was accidental. With a keen interest in churches and chapels, I had visited many sites over the years and been aware that yew was always there in the background. On a visit to Cascob church in Powys I sheltered beneath a large yew as horizontal rain, sleet and snow battered its west side. During the onslaught I watched as its bark was transformed from shades of brown to a rich glossy red, then as the weather abated more colours were revealed, including yellow, purple, silver and grey, before it slowly returned to brown. I was also aware of the extraordinary size of this tree, with a girth of 25′. Wanting to find out more led me to the Ancient Yew Group website. With information oozing from every page, I was hooked!

I realised that I knew the location of many large yew trees that grew outside of churchyards and did not appear in any county list of trees. This knowledge was borne out of my enjoyment of walking many miles of the countryside and working in that environment during my younger years. In my travels in the Welsh Marches I have discovered many previously unknown trees that appear to mark thoroughfares between religious sites. My travels and observations have also revealed a trend for yew planting in gardens of C16 and C17 houses.

My aim over the coming years is to supply images and information for yews in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Wales and South Cheshire. By researching and visiting these sites I will be able to provide a comprehensive inventory of one of the most densely populated areas for yews in the United Kingdom. It is my hope that the information I am gathering will help preserve the future of these trees, which are an important part of British history. The Ancient Yew Group’s website means that many more people can become informed about the tree and its plight.

Chris Knapman
My connection with the natural world started to develop at age 4 with Ladybird books!  At age 31 I took a degree in Environmental Science at Plymouth University and between 1995 and 2016 spent over 20 years as Plymouth City Council Tree Officer.

I am a member of: Butterfly Conservation, Royal Forestry Society (RFS), National Trust, Trees and Design Action Group and am a Fellow of the Arboricultural Association. I obtained the RFS Professional Diploma in Arboriculture in 2000.

I have been a Co-opted Board Member of the Ancient Tree Forum (ATF) since 2008 and became a trustee in March 2017. I instigated and co-founded Devon Ancient Tree Forum in August 2005.

I am also an assessor for the David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme and have worked as Tree Protection Officer for the RHS at Chelsea Flower Show.

I am inspired by the aesthetics, biology and culture of all ancient trees and their associated treescapes, but believe that the Yew is a special case amongst these trees because of their longevity and potential immortality; distinct biology and deep connections with our culture and that of our ancestors. Despite their role as a constant and a connection with our past, it is up to us to secure their future which is inextricably linked with our own in a fast changing world. This sceptr’d isle is of international importance for its ancient Yews and we therefore have a deep responsibility to ensure that there are no further avoidable losses of our Yew heritage.

I intend to work towards this objective with the Ancient Yew Group and its partner organisations (notably the ATF), which have done so much already to gain recognition for our special ancient tree heritage.

Dr Peter Thomas
Dr Peter Thomas is a Reader in Plant Ecology at Keele University and currently also holds a Fellowship at Harvard Forest, Harvard University, USA. His main interest is the biology and ecology of trees and he has written widely on these subjects, including five books on trees and woodlands. He has also written a number of publications on the yew tree including an academic monograph on the ecology of the yew and others on the future of the yew under climate change, and is passionate about their long-term survival. In his spare time, Peter is working his way through visiting as many yew trees as possible in Britain and Europe.


Contributory Members of the Ancient Yew Group

Peter Andrews
Many years ago I developed a keen interest in Natural History. Through a study of British Botany I began to look at the different species of trees and I saw for the first time at Tisbury in Wiltshire, a magnificent churchyard Yew. Soon after I began to visit different churchyards and other sites to see and to photograph the Yews which grow there.

On one of my excursions I took my bicycle by train to Salisbury to visit Knowlton Henge in Dorset. During my outward journey I was between Damerham in Hampshire and Cranborne in Dorset when to my amazement I saw a number of large Yews in woodland by the road side. It was only later that I discovered these to be previously unrecorded yews. Further south above Cranborne I saw roadsides lined with Yew and knew many of them would have been planted there for a special reason. I have since returned to this lovely area a number of times and have found equally interesting yews, many of them boundary and route markers.

I believe that these old Yews growing outside of churchyards are also important and they need to be recorded and protected. To understand the Yews better you need to study the history of the area in which they grow. The English Heritage Records Centre in Swindon has been particularly useful in being able to consult old books and maps of this area.

Russell Cleaver
Was trained in arboriculture and employed in countryside management from his twenties to his fifties. First as a countryside ranger and later as a manager of a historic park. Employed by Hampshire County Council he is now predominantly involved in raising external funds for recreational and heritage projects in the county.

For many years Russell has studied native woods and ancient trees, especially yews, which in Hampshire are so common on chalk soils they are popularly called the ‘Hampshire Weed’. However, it has become clear from his observation of many veteran trees, that as such organisms age they gain in character and intrinsic interest. A situation that he takes great solace from as he tip-toes towards his own sixth decade.

Cliff Hansford
Like many people, I grew up in the understanding that yew trees grow in churchyards and were planted there to supply timber for arrows and long bows. Standing next to a yew tree reputed to be 1500 years old, in a country churchyard attached to a church 800 years old, raises doubts as to this understanding: here is a yew tree which occupied this space some 700 hundred years before the founding of the church. Does this then mean that churchyards embrace the yew rather than the former definition?

It was after expressing these observations to a colleague that I was introduced to the work of Allen Meredith through the book The Sacred Yew by Chetan and Brueton, and then also to Robert Bevan-Jones’ book The Ancient Yew. So began my interest and subsequent involvement with the yew. Many yews it would appear are of a great size and may well predate the church to which they are assigned.

Impressed by the size of these churchyard yews I began in 2003 to visit more churchyards in Kent in the hope that I would discover an undocumented one but soon realised that most were already recorded.

Further reading proved most rewarding and I learned of the Tree Register, which in turn led me to “Yew Trees” (established by Paul Greenwood) and finally to the work of The Ancient Yew Group. Through the support and encouragement from Paul at “Yew Trees” I moved on to fieldwork research in areas away from churchyards. Such research has introduced me to wonderful yews in places as varied as private gardens, the North Downs, local park lands, surroundings of a religious nature, an original monastic site and stately homes to name but a few.

Discovering and sharing my finds with others, be they fellow enthusiasts or custodians of yew themselves has meant sharing much more than just the discovery of another yew. Owners and custodians are always grateful to learn more about these wonderful enigmatic splendours of our heritage and I’m just as thrilled by their enthusiasm.

Many yews are potential Ancient Monuments in their own right, with possible significant links to our ancestral past and its players, but in many cases remain un-recognised as such. In my own little way, and with the guidance and support of those far more experienced than myself, I can only hope that my contribution will help to raise the profile, significance and understanding of our yews here in Kent.

Tim Laurie
Tim has been concerned with the survey and interpretation of archaeological sites of all periods in Wensleydale, Swaledale and on the Swale-Tees and Greta Uplands over a period of almost forty years. He is mentor and President of the recently formed Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeological Group, see www.swaag.org . His current interest is in recording woodland communities throughout this region of the East Pennine Fringe, but with special regard to the wealth of relict woodland on the many limestone scars and within remote tributary gills of the Swale Catchment which include many locations with ancient yews, juniper and aspen. This stems from his conviction, as an Archaeologist, that a reconstruction of the contemporary prehistoric woodland environment is prerequisite to the understanding of the natural controls and the character of human activities in the Pennine Uplands through time. To this end, he has been and is actively engaged in collaborating with the Woodland Trust, The Tree Register and with the Ancient Yew Group in the collation of records, not only of individual trees, but also of the surviving fragments of woodland vegetation on the often remote and seldom visited limestone cliffs of this fine Dales Landscape.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

David Alderman of the Tree Register, who recognised the significance of the information gathered by members of the Ancient Yew Group and has worked tirelessly to oversee the development of this web site.

The Conservation Foundation, for instigating many projects associated with the yew and providing support in our efforts to save threatened trees.

Authors of the books featured in the Bibliography, who have advanced the knowledge of ancient yews in the British Isles:

Trevor Baxter: Robert Bevan-Jones: Anand Chetan and Diana Brueton: Vaughan Cornish: J.Daryll Evans: Hal Hartzell,Jr.: John Lowe: Ken Mills: E.W. Swanton: Richard Williamson

The Sacred Yew by Chetan and Brueton, which contains a gazetteer (appendix 3) listing 404 ancient yew sites in the British Isles.

Arthur Mee, author of The King’s England Series, who travelled the country to record architecture, but was aware of the significance of old yews in churchyards.

Originally published by Hodder and Stoughton his guidebooks have become historical documents in their own right and many are now available in reprints of the originals, produced by The King’s England Press.

CPAT – The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, whose Historic Churches Survey Database can be found at www.cpat.org.uk. Their detailed observation and recording of ancient churchyards has uncovered many undiscovered ancient yews. Making their findings so accessible sets an example for others to follow.

The Buildings of England series by Pevsner published by Yale University Press:

Nikolaus Pevsner – Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Dorset, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Sussex, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.

David Verey and Alan Brooks – Gloucestershire

John Newman – Kent

Ian Nairn – Surrey

The Buildings of Wales series published by Yale University Press:

John Newman – Glamorgan, Gwent/Monmouthshire

Richard Haslam – Powys

 

Yew recorders

Contributors to the Tree Register’s data base

Robert Bevan-Jones – Hertfordshire

Phillip Burbury – particularly yews on cliffs and escarpments in North Yorkshire and Durham

Lin Carter – Berkshire

Steve Dennis – Herefordshire and Derbyshire

Owen Johnson – Trees of Sussex

Andrew Morton – Trees of Shropshire

Yew surveys carried out in Brecon and Hampshire

 

Owners/finders of exceptional yews

D.J.Beer, Roger Benner, Adrian Bruce-Smythe, Tony Hackett, Sheila Hardiman, Stephen Horn, Mike Jenkins, David Knapp, Lalit Kumar, John Knight