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Yews for the Millennium

Yews for the Millennium

Yew trees like this one have grown in British churchyards for thousands of years, some even pre-dating the church beside which they stand

Yews for the Millennium was one of the most successful British Millennium projects – and one that should still be visible at the turn of the next millennium.

It originated as part of ARC's Sacred Land project.

In 1999 the UK Conservation Foundation took cuttings from Yew trees that were alive at the time of Christ and planted them for the new Millennium. Several hundred of these ancient trees still live across Britain, almost all in churchyards. The yew in Fortingall churchyard near Aberfeldy in Scotland might even be as old as 8,000 years, making it the oldest living thing in Britain.

The mythological Scandinavian Yggdrasil tree – worshipped as the tree of knowledge and the pillar of the universe – was almost certainly a Yew
It was expected that a few hundred churches would take up the gift of a yew sapling but in the end more than 8,000 saplings were distributed, and crowds gathered in cathedrals and local churches for the blessing of these tiny plants.

In the year 3000 one in 20 of these yews could still be alive. And in the next hundred years these trees will provide shelter in churchyards, and act as memorials to the local enthusiasm for nature and the sacred.

Since the reason after all for there being a millennium celebration was the birth of Christ, the Yews project chose the ancient sacred trees that were alive during the life of Jesus to be appropriate symbols for the celebration.

The Conservation Foundation Yew Tree Campaign was launched by David Bellamy in 1987 to ensure the protection of Britain's oldest trees – and invite the public to record and look after their local yews. A few cuttings are still available for £15 each (plus delivery) for parishes and £25 (plus delivery) for private purchase. Contact the Conservation Foundation Ancient Yew Campaign to find out more.

Link to a story about the ancient Beltingham yew.

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