Gardeners’ World: Expert discusses ‘biggest threat’ to trees
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Enchanting yew trees are spread across the land, and some are over 5,000 years old.
Ancient yew trees are being cut down in churchyards sold to developers (Image: Getty)
But artist and yew expert Janis Fry, 72, says the “immortal giants” could disappear because the majority are in churchyards, which are increasingly being sold off to developers.
Speaking after visiting a 5,000-year-old yew at Defynnog, in the Brecon Beacons National Park, she said: “This is the tree of life, terribly important for us as a symbol for our future. It’s an ancient tree. It’s always been here.
“The church owns most of these ancient trees. We, in Britain, have the largest collection of ancient yews on Earth. We’re talking about the longest living trees on the planet.”
The UK has 157 of the variety over 2,000 years old. And at least 500 churchyards in England have trees older than the buildings themselves, says the Woodland Trust. Naomi Tilley, the charity’s lead campaigner, said: “As a society we protect what we value, and we value what we protect.”
Calling for better legal safeguards, she added: “Well-established measures keep our most important wildlife, oldest buildings and other national treasures safe, rightly so. But some rare fungi relying on ancient trees is better protected than the trees.”
Fellow activist Janis, from west Wales, launched a petition to save yews, which has hit 308,000 signatures. She said: “There is no legal protection for these beautiful trees. It’s urgent that we protect this vital part of our heritage with specific legal measures before we lose any more.”
Janis added: “Currently, the only recourse is to go through the long, difficult process of a Tree Protection Order. This would mean if the trees were destroyed by a developer, they would have to pay only a small fine.”
To sign the petition, go to this link .
The UK’s oldest trees are living legends. Cathedrals of nature. But they are disappearing.
Some are over a thousand years old, but ancient trees lack the protected status given to other important and threatened wildlife and heritage buildings.
All trees matter, but the older the tree, the more important it is for wildlife and for local people.
An ancient oak can support over 2,300 species, for example.
But right now centuries-old oak timbers in churches and listed buildings have more protection than the living oak trees that produced them.
Legal protection for our oldest trees is long overdue.
Various policies encourage retention of trees in new developments. Some ancient trees happen to be located in legally protected wildlife sites, but most are outside these areas.
Tree preservation orders offer limited help, but they are not granted for trees’ worth to wildlife, age or intrinsic value, only for “amenity value” and where “expedient”.
So a tree must be under threat in an accessible local space.
Farming, planning and nature recovery policies should all help farmers, developers and land managers to consistently retain, record and reduce threats to old and special trees.
But we must make the vital change to start truly valuing and conserving our special trees. With the loss of each one, people, wildlife and environment suffer.