Tree as old as Flodden is rescued

Peter Boyd, retired landscape gardener,  of Yetholm with a Yew tree situated across the road from where he lives which he claims is well over 500 years old.
Peter Boyd, retired landscape gardener, of Yetholm with a Yew tree situated across the road from where he lives which he claims is well over 500 years old.

A yew tree that dates at least from the time of the Battle of Flodden 500 years ago, is now thriving in Yetholm, despite several decades as the centre of a rubbish tip.

The giant yew, which measures about 11ft in girth and stands 60ft high, is located at the allotments close to the village church and was probably planted, as many yew trees were, to ward off evil spirits from churches and graveyards.

Local village resident and retired tree surgeon, Peter Boyd, has lived in Yetholm for the past 19 years and says the tree is definitely at least 500 years old.

“The tree is actually across the road from my house,” Mr Boyd told The Southern this week, as the region gets ready to mark the Flodden anniversary. “But when I first moved here, the roots of the tree were at the centre of a massive rubbish dump and had been for about 60 years.

“There was everything from old zinc baths to broken glass, and because a tree’s roots need to be able to get oxygen to them to survive, the rubbish was causing it to slowly die on one side.

“So I started a campaign to get rid of the rubbish and when it was finally cleared away, it took five 20-ton loads to shift it all.

“But now it (the tree) is beginning to revive and come again, with new spurts of growth.”

A lawn has now been seeded around the base of the tree, with some beech hedging planted to help protect it.

However, Mr Boyd does not agree with the rumour that the tree had originally been planted at the time of Flodden to mark the deaths of local men in the slaughter at Branxton Moor in September 1513.

“I don’t think that’ll be correct. Yew trees were very often planted in churchyards because it was believed this species of tree warded off evil spirits. But from my experience the tree is certainly as old as the time of Flodden, if not older.

“So it’s fantastic that it is now thriving once again.”

The yew (Taxus baccata) is the most ancient of trees, with some living thousands of years.

The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is estimated to be around 5,000 years old and has connections to early Christianity in Scotland.

It is also believed to be one of the oldest living things in Europe and, according to local legend, Pontius Pilate was born in its shade and played there as a child.

Timber from yew trees is very elastic and was traditionally used for longbows and spears.

In fact the trade in yew staves for the making of longbows in the Middle Ages resulted in a serious depletion of the tree across a vast area of Europe.

The world’s oldest wooden artefact was a yew spear found in Essex, and estimated to be 200,000 years old.

There has also been an ancient link between yew trees and churchyards and there are at least 500 churchyards in England which contain yew trees which are older than the churches themselves.

Most parts of the yew tree are toxic, with the foliage actually remaining toxic even when wilted, and that toxicity increases in potency when dried. The major toxin in yew is the alkaloid, taxine.