Dating yew trees

Favoured by optimum growing conditions in the Thames floodplain.

No individual trees were ever recorded in the Domesday Book, but a curious trend might tell us more about the situation of our our oldest trees. The current distribution of veteran yews from Kent through the southern counties and along the Welsh borders follows the demarcation line of the Danegeld, and might imply an ethnic cleansing by our viking invaders.

The ancient yew is certainly conspicuous in its absence from east anglia. If this prejudice were to be confirmed it would give us another historic baseline. Stratographic archaeology does provide additional clues in cases where trees form part of a configuration or overlie old earthworks, but even these can be misleading. An apocryphal story arose regarding the discovery of Saxon vaulting constructed to span an existing root. Had this been so it would certainly have confirmed suppositions of great age.

The Ankerwycke yew, Was this a 12th century tree?

Enchanting Yew Trees

Yew tree growing from the rubble of Waverley Abbey in Surrey: Does it pre-date the Abbey or the dissolution of the monastries ? Root material contains clearly legible growth rings and can frequently survive and regenerate following destruction of the tree itself. Unfortunately this evidence has wizened on close inspection. Clues can be gathered as to the maximum possible age of trees established on earthworks or burial mounds, in association with churchyards or as marker trees near routes of pilgrimage or holy shrines.

Yew tree avenue Great Fountain Garden Hampton Court Palace

It does appear that some association exists with the activities of early christian missionaries, such as the 6th century St Afan at Discoed in Powys. This may be a case of sanctity by association, but does not necessarily imply that such trees were particularly valued or preserved by earlier pagan cults.

That they may have been marker trees would make sense in view of their conspicuous character. They certainly seem to have served as meeting places for the hundredal courts or moots, which declined in the 12th century. Such groups of trees as those at Knowlton in Dorset could possibly have arisen since the last use of the site for saxon burials in the 7th century, but their girths indicate that they could be older still. Churchyard trees could be conveniently dated according to the transition from circular llan or rath to rectangular yard, if only the timing of this change had been sufficiently clear-cut.

Yew tree age estimates

The National Tree Register lists measurements between and and incorporating earlier records. Records from trees of known planting date include: Paul Tabbush at Alice Holt has devised a shortcut to yew age estimation based upon extensive sampling of churchyard yews. The dating of yew remains a fuzzy science despite the arsenal of special effects brought to bear by archaeologists and dendrochronologists. Whatever the facts, no upper age limit has been established for this species- there is clearly a case for the ageist lobby as the debate continues.

For the cost of dating a Churchyard yew tree by tree-ring analysis click: A yew tree approximately 3 meters in girth and so estimated to be years old was recently in danger of being fell, at Hunton Bridge, Herts.

Ageing the Yew- no core, no curve

It was later discovered that the tree was also an important roost site for bats. All bats are specially protected species. Web design services from SWD.

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Ageing the Yew no core, no curve

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