4,000 year-old Ashbrittle Yew, UK’s oldest tree, may be dying, says churchwarden

Britain’s oldest tree, a 4,000 year-old Ashbrittle Yew, which is also the oldest living organism in the country, could be dying, churchwarden of the Church of St John the Baptist, in Ashbrittle, Somerset, fears. Its branches have started to wilt and too many leaves are falling off.

Churchwarden Charles Doble commented:

“The tree is supposed to be the oldest living thing in England and was already fairly mature when Stonehenge was being built. Experts say it is 3,500 to 4,000 years old.”

“But it’s looking extremely sick at the moment and I’m worried whether the rural church or the yew will die first.”

Ashbrittle Yew

The Ashbrittle Yew, 4,000 years old, in the churchyard of the parish’s Church of St John the Baptist. (Image: timetravel-britain.com)

However, dendrologist (person who studies trees and other woody plants) Dr. Owen Johnson believes the tree may simply be going through a rough patch.

Dr. Owen, who has spent the last twenty years studying and recording over 60,000 trees around Britain, said:

“They go through spells where they might look as though they are not thriving, but a few years later they might look fine.”


The Ancient Yew of Ashbrittle

The Yew of Ashbrittle, in the village of Ashbrittle, nine miles from Taunton in Somerset, was already a very mature tree when Jesus Christ was born. The 15th century church near where it grows is an infant in comparison.

A plaque near the tree reads “Generations of local people have cherished this tree, one of the oldest living things in Britain.”

If you visit the Church of St. John the Baptist, it is impossible to miss the Ashbrittle Yew, with its 40-foot girth and a vast canopy of arches as you approach it.

Tracy Kramer writes in TimeTravelBritain.com:

“The tree invites you to stop and gaze upon its lichen-covered branches, many of which nearly touch the ground, and its ancient, gnarled trunks cushioned by the lush mound of vegetation from which they grow.”

“The tree has a hollow central trunk, with six smaller ones surrounding it. This distinctive form may have arisen long ago as the tree repaired itself after damage or infection in its original trunk.”

Yew trees typically regenerate themselves in this way, hence their incredibly long lifespans.

A juvenile compared to Old Tjikko

There is a Norway Spruce on the Fulufjället Mountain of Dalarna province in Sweden that is estimated to be 9,550 years old, making the Yew of Ashbrittle seem like its juvenile cousin.

The Old Tjikko

The Old Tjikko. 9,550 years old. (Image: Wikipedia)

The tree’s age was determined by carbon dating of genetically matched plant material gathered from under the tree.

Its trunk is only a few hundred years old, but the plant survived for much longer due to layering – a process whereby a branch comes in contact with the ground and sprouts a new root.