Magazine article The Spectator

You and Yews

Magazine article The Spectator

You and Yews

Article excerpt

The village has been slow to catch Millennium Fever. Although invited, even exhorted, by both parish council and parochial church council to 'come up' with ideas on how to mark it, and despite the inherent fascination of the prospect, suggestions are 'coming up' in a trickle rather than a flood. We seem intimidated by the momentous nature of the duty with which we have been entrusted. I imagine the splendour, magnificence and congruity of the Millennium Dome makes any scaleddown initiative that we might devise look, frankly, pretty dim.

My commitment to the Millennium celebrations so far has been two-fold. I have diffidently (because I am not very skilled) volunteered to ring one of the bells in the church tower at noon on 1 January 2000, when bells are to be rung in every church in the country. I appreciate that some might argue that this is not really in the true spirit of the Millennium celebrations: the almost compulsory Millennial hangover will be a distinct disadvantage; the event will not be happening in a far-off holiday destination; and the children who take part will learn less about life than they would by climbing inside a giant androgyne in Greenwich. Nevertheless, we seem set on doing it.

Second, in my capacity as village horticultural know-all and bossy-boots, I have registered with the Conservation Foundation, in order to receive a young yew plant to put in the churchyard in the year 2000. This will have been propagated vegetatively from (and, therefore, be genetically identical to) one of the extraordinarily ancient trees which are scattered about the country, mostly in churchyards.

The Conservation Foundation, supported by Landis and Gyr, produces a 'Yews for the Millennium' newsletter (Yews News), which makes instructive reading. From it, I learned that the most ancient yews in Britain pre-date the birth of Christ by two or perhaps even three thousand years, making them the oldest living trees in Europe. (Bristle-cone pines, Pinus aristata, from the United States, are by common consent the oldest in the world.) The yew's marvellous capacity for regeneration means that it will grow again even after being cut to a stump, and, moreover, will usually strike from cuttings easily. …

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