The Green Room ~ Time for a new Yew?

22/04/2015

By the Revd Dr John Harrison  

St Cuthbert’s Church, Beltingham (near Haydon Bridge, Northumberland) is home to one of the trees listed by the Ancient Yew Group

St Cuthbert’s Church, Beltingham     
(near Haydon Bridge, Northumberland)     
is home to one of the trees     
listed by the Ancient Yew Group
      

 

The Beltingham Yew has been supported by ironwork for many years

The Beltingham Yew has been     
supported by ironwork for many years
    

 

 

 

 

Sitting here in my study I look out on fields edged with trees which are now coming in to leaf, an event which we always marked in my childhood home as a sign of the continuing renewal of God’s creation.

Our faith is framed by the ‘tree of life’ from Genesis 2: 9 “The Lord God made trees grow ….. and in the middle of the garden he set the tree of life” to Revelation 22: 2 “On either side of the river [of the water of life] stood a tree of life”.

The fossil trees that we find in peat deposits were alive before Christ walked this earth, and the rings revealed in the cross-section of tree trunks have been used to provide much of the chronology of climatic change (dendrochronology) upon which we base our predictions for the future of global climates. Our ancestors cleared the forests in order to farm the land and in industrial times trees have provided fuel and also props for mine workings.

Not surprisingly trees such as the yew have acquired enormous religious significance whether this be pagan or Christian, and are a feature of many of our churchyards. There is no single reason why they have such prominence. In some cases the evergreen yew (Taxus baccata) in British churchyards has pagan origins where places of Christian worship have been located with the express purpose of displacing pagan practices. On a more practical note the ever-present foliage of the yew has provided much needed shelter from the wind, and as a child I remember being taken to see the yew tree at Malpas in Cheshire which had provided much-needed wood for arrows during the English Civil War. To the Christian the evergreen foliage is taken to be symbolic of the resurrection of the body. So if you have a yew in your churchyard you may be interested to hear news from The Conservation Foundation.

In May this year (2015) the Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting a campaign managed by The Conservation Foundation to provide assistance in the maintenance of “ancient and veteran” yews. Apparently 217 of England’s 272 ancient yews are in churchyards. The campaign will also include encouragement to plant young yews to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. The young yews have been propagated from yews that were growing at the time of the Magna Carta.

Apart from larger projects, “there will also be small grants available to support local community and school projects to do historical research around their ancient or veteran yew. Funding is also available for maintenance work on ancient and veteran yews, along with guidance on their management.”

"A list of ancient and veteran trees listed by Diocese can be found on the Ancient Yew Group website: www.ancient-yew.org. Further information will be available on the Yew Campaign website when the project is launched in early May.”

So if you are looking for a suitable ‘green’ project for your local churchyard, you may like to know that when the New Yew Campaign is launched you can e-mail info@conservationfoundation.co.uk with Yew Campaign in the subject line.
Don’t forget to include your contact details.

I know of a veteran yew
In the churchyard of old St Hugh
It’s state is quite sad
And its core is quite bad
But now there’s a chance to renew

 

 

  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.

 

 

 

 

 

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