Great British Trees:
One of the 50 trees included in The Tree Council’s book Great British Trees, published in 2002.

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Type of tree:

The Fortingall Yew

Estimated to be perhaps 5,000 years old, the Fortingall Yew stands at the geographical heart of Scotland. It is believed to be the most ancient yew (Taxus baccata) in Britain, probably even the oldest living thing in Europe.

The tree was first described in 1769 by the Hon. Daines Barrington 1, who measured it as 52 feet (16 metres) in circumference. By July 1833 2 Dr Neil found that large amounts had been cut away “by the country people, with the view of forming quechs or drinking cups, and other relics, which visitors were in the habit of purchasing.” The trunk then resembled a semicircular wall, although new spray and a few young branches were growing to a height of up to 30 feet (9 metres).

In 1854, Loudon 3 said “its age is unknown but it has long been a mere shell, forming an arch through which funeral processions were accustomed to pass.”

Today this venerable tree is still a very impressive sight and is enclosed within a wall built to create a sanctuary for its undisturbed growth. Its trunk now comprises several separate elements and without knowing the tree’s long history it would be difficult to regard it as a single tree.

This tree, owned by Perth and Kinross Council, grows in the churchyard of Fortingall which is roughly 40 miles north west of Perth. The tree is protected by a stone wall but can be viewed with ease from the churchyard.