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10 largest yew trees in the United Kingdom

Crowhurst Yew, Surrey
Crowhurst Yew in Surrey – the 5th largest yew by the circumference in the United Kingdom. / Donald Macauley, / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

There are numerous giant yew trees in the churchyards in the United Kingdom. These trees are a part of the cultural landscape, a beautiful accent in the rich scenery of Britain.

This article is an attempt to list the largest of them – but you will see that this is not as simple and straightforward, as it may seem.

Contents

Map of the 10 largest yew trees in the United Kingdom

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WorldYellow About the giant yews of the UK

Yews are the thickest trees in the United Kingdom after the two species of oaks (Quercus robur and Quercus petraea) and occasional foreign redwoods and chestnuts.

According to the data in Monumental Trees website, the largest yew tree is in Leon, Spain and it has the fantastic girth of 12.47 m. But the largest British yew trees are not far behind.

Adornment of British churchyards

Tandridge Yew in 2011
Tandridge Yew in 2011./ Robin Webster, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

While the Spanish giant yew grows in a natural area, ALL the largest British yew trees, that are listed on this page, grow exclusively in churchyards near smaller countryside churches.

The most widespread explanation for this is that yews mark the location of ancient sacred sites and these trees formed a part of shrines. And, most likely, these trees are older than churches. Thus, these are not yews that grow next to the churches. We are rather speaking about churches that were built next to the yews.

But there are other explanations as well, e.g. yew trees are poisonous and, due to this they were eliminated in pastures. Cattle were not allowed in churchyards, thus this beautiful tree could grow there and, as the churchyards do not change their location, trees had enough time to grow undisturbed. Both versions might be right.

All the giant yew trees that are listed in this page, grow in Southern England and Wales, with one exception: the legendary Fortingall Yew in Scotland.

What is the age of ancient yews?

Defynnog Yew and church graveyard
Defynnog Yew. / Peter, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

People love to evaluate enormous trees not by their size but by their age. Ancient British yews are a typical example: almost all of them are considered to be older than 1000 years but… there are yews believed to be 5000 years old (Defynnog Yew)!

There is a “small” problem with this: in fact, we do not know their age. It is not possible to count the tree rings – all ancient yews have been hollowed out. There are no written sources about their planting time.

We can try to determine the age of yews based on their size. Somewhat better could be estimates that are based on the changes in size between, for example, the 19th century and now – but then, we should assume that the tree grew with the same speed before this as well.

In real life the speed of tree growth depends on numerous factors: soil, groundwater regime, climate, lightning, shadow etc. The speed of growth of two trees of the same species may differ several times. A tree can grow slowly for long decades and then it can start to increase in thickness very fast.

There is an exception: a dendrochronological analysis of the yew at Loughton Church. It gave a very approximate result: this giant tree is approximately 1000 years old.

Thus, we can assume that giant British yew trees can have an age that exceeds 1000 years. But, most likely, not a lot more than this.

About the list

The list below is based on a single parameter – the girth around the tree trunk. There is taken the minimum girth between the ground level and 1.3 m height: e.g. if the circumference at the ground is smaller than at the height of 1.3 m, then the ground level girth is selected.

There are several pitfalls, that make this rule complicated:

Llangernyw Yew in Conwy
Large hollow has divided the Llangernyw Yew into several parts./ © Copyright Eirian Evans, Geograph. Licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Old yews have large hollows. Over time these hollows divide the tree into several parts and some of these parts develop as separate trees. It is a tradition to measure the joint circumference around all these trunks, but… in a way, this is a kind of cheat because each trunk develops its diameter separately. Also, visually such a tree is a lot less impressive. Such yew trees, for example Ashbrittle Yew, are not included in the top-10 list but – they have their own top-10 on this page!
  • The trees are measured at different times – in this article, the period between the measurements of diverse trees exceeds 30 years. The history of measurements shows that old yew trees continue to change their size – some increase, some lose some parts and their girth decreases.

The best source of information about British yews is the website of Ancient Yew Group!

WorldViolet List of top 10 yew trees in the United Kingdom (by circumference)

01

Tandridge Yew

4.2 out of 10 stars 42.3%

England, Surrey

10.92 m (at the ground level, 2013, 1.)

It seems that Tandridge Yew has the largest girth of all the yew trees in the United Kingdom. The current tree, though, is not exactly the original tree – the main trunk of it fell down centuries ago. Back then there developed many sprouts from the stump. As the centuries rolled by, sprouts turned each into a large tree and then they fused together, forming a single tree of giant size.

Tandridge Yew
Tandridge Yew./ Sally, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
02

Yew at Norbury All Saints’ Church

3.9 out of 10 stars 38.8%

England, Shropshire

10.72 m (at the ground level, 2016, 2.)

This beautiful tree is in an excellent condition – a true wonder for a tree of this size! The circumference is measured at the ground level as further up it becomes wider.

Yew at Norbury All Saints' Church
Yew at Norbury All Saints’ Church. / Matthew Hatton, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

,

03

Kenn Yew

3.9 out of 10 stars 38.8%

England, Devon

10.56 m (at the ground level, 1999, 2.)

A beautiful tree in the churchyard. This tree is healthy, but it divides into two parts and has a huge hollow.

Kenn Yew
Kenn Yew. / David Gearing, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
04

The largest yew at Bettws Newydd St Aeddan’s Church

3.8 out of 10 stars 38.3%

Wales, Monmouthshire

10.5 m (at the ground level, 2017, 4.)

There are two giant yew trees at St Aeddan’s church – the largest has a circumference of 10.5 m, but the other one – 7.15 m. The largest is unusual: it has a dead wood shell around a hollow and a younger tree rising from this hollow.

05

Crowhurst Yew, Surrey

4.2 out of 10 stars 42.3%

England, Surrey

10.24 m (at 1.3 m height, 2023, 5.)

If this is possible (because all the listed trees are exceptional), Crowhurst Yew is the most impressive tree in this list. The tree is healthy in spite of human actions in the past. In the first half of the 19th century a festive room was made inside the tree and a door was added. A fairy tale tree!

Trunk of Crowhurst Yew with door leading into the hollow, Surrey
Trunk of Crowhurst Yew with door leading into the hollow / Donald Macauley, / CC BY-SA 2.0
06

Yew at Llanafan Fawr St Afan’s Church

3.4 out of 10 stars 34.0%

Wales, Powys

10.16 m (at the ground level, 2015, 6.)

This giant tree divides into several branches – thus it is measured at the ground level. Yew has a giant hollow – one can enter it.

Yew at Llanafan Fawr
Yew at Llanafan Fawr./ paul wood, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
07

Yew at Llanarth St Teilo’s Church

3.4 out of 10 stars 34.3%

Wales, Monmouthshire

10.06 m (at 0.5 m height, 2017, 7.)

The trunk of this gorgeous tree to some extent resembles a giant pumpkin with an enormous hollow. Inside the enormous hollow grows a younger trunk – an aerial root. Numerous larger and smaller branches and trunks rise from it.

08

Yew at Loughton Church, Shropshire

3.4 out of 10 stars 34.3%

England, Shropshire

10.06 m (1986?, 8.)

This beautiful yew tree has a single trunk with an enormous hollow. The tree is not high, its trunk is distorted, with bulges, ribs, countless twigs. Most likely, the tree is larger now! It is one of the trees with a measured age: Loughton Yew is definitely older than 1000 years.

09

Defynnog Yew

4 out of 10 stars 39.8%

Wales, Powys

10.06 m (at the ground level, 2014, 9.)

This tree has a complex trunk that, nevertheless, at the ground level still is a single trunk. There are many discussions about the age of Defynnog Yew, some consider that it is even 5000 years old. Most likely, the tree is much younger… if something that is more than 1000 years old, can be called “young”.

Defynnog Yew
Defynnog Yew. / Peter, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
10

Ulcombe Old Yew

4.1 out of 10 stars 40.8%

England, Kent

10.03 m (at the ground level, 2013, 10.)

Ulcombe churchyard has the luxury of having two especially large yew trees. The “New Yew” has a circumference of 9.63 m but the “Old Yew” is even larger – 10.03 m. We can be (almost) sure that the tree grew there before the construction of the 13th century church.

Ulcombe Old Yew
Ulcombe Old Yew – the largest of two giant yew trees./ Penny Mayes, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

References

  1. Yew/Yews at Tandridge – churchyard England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 27, 2022
  2. Yew/Yews at Norbury England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on March 30, 2023.
  3. Yew/Yews at Kenn England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on November 19, 2022.
  4. European Yews on the cemetery of the village church in Bettws Newydd, Wales, United Kingdom, Monumental Trees. Accessed on December 19, 2023.
  5. European Yew close to St. Georges’ church, Crowhurst, England, United Kingdom, Monumental Trees. Accessed on December 27, 2022
  6. Yew/Yews at Llanafan-fawr Wales, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 16, 2023.
  7. Yew/Yews at Llanarth Wales, Ancient Yew Group, 2020. Accessed on December 22, 2023.
  8. Yew/Yews at Loughton – churchyard England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 11, 2023.
  9. Toby Hindson, Addressing the claim that the Defynnog yews in Powys may be 5,000 years old, Ancient Yew Group (AYG). Accessed on December 27, 2022
  10. Yew/Yews at Ulcombe, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 10, 2023.

 

WorldVioletList of 10 other giant yew trees in the United Kingdom

A

The Fortingall Yew

3.5 out of 10 stars 34.5%

Scotland, Perth and Kinross

17.2 m (in the 17th century)

The legendary Fortingall Yew is far north of any other giant yew trees. According to legends, Pontius Pilate (somehow…) was born near it. In the 18th century, the tree had a circumference of 15 – 17 metres! Today the yew has divided into two separate trees and one can only try to imagine the former giant.

Fortingall Yew in 1822
Fortingall Yew in 1822 / Sylva Britannica, 1822, Jacob George Strutt
B

Ashbrittle Yew

3.9 out of 10 stars 38.8%

England, Somerset

12.17 m (at the ground level, around a group of trunks, 2015, 1.)

Ashbrittle yew now looks like a group of several trees consisting of a central, hollowed stem (circumference – 4.9 m) with 6 other stems. Long ago the trunk of the tree became hollow and then the giant trunk fragmented.

Ashbrittle Yew, Somerset
Ashbrittle Yew / Martin Bodman, / CC BY-SA 2.0
C

Ciliau Aeron Yew (southern tree)

3.1 out of 10 stars 30.5%

Wales, Ceredigion

11.58 m (at the ground level, around a group of trees, 2014, 2.)

This yew tree has multiple trunks now and looks rather like a stand of closely located trees and shrubs. Most likely, this is an ancient yew tree that over the time has split and divided into new trees.

D

Discoed Yew

4.1 out of 10 stars 40.5%

Wales, Powys

11.28 m (at 0.9 m height around multiple trunks, 1994, 3.)

Popular belief is that Discoed Yew is 5000 years old, but, most likely – not that much. Now it does not have a single, massive trunk anymore. The central trunk has died long ago and several parts have been resprouted and are marking its outer rims – most likely, extending the size of the original trunk.

Discoed Yew tree
Discoed Yew tree. / Peter Evans, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
E

Yew at Breamore St Mary’s Church

4.2 out of 10 stars 41.8%

England, Hampshire

10.82 m (at 0.6 m height around multiple trunks, 2012, 4.)

A magnificent, very impressive tree, a feast for the eyes. The middle of its trunk is gone. The crown of the tree is supported now by a ring of more than 10 smaller trunks. The former hollow now is similar to a hill of tree roots.

Yew at Breamore St Mary's Church
Yew at Breamore St Mary’s Church. / Stoutcob, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
F

Llangernyw Yew

4 out of 10 stars 40.3%

Wales, Conwy

10.75 m (at the ground level height around multiple trunks, 2012, 5.)

This magnificent tree grows in an ancient site – nearby are standing stones and a much later building – 13th-century church. The yew has lost its core. Now there remain several large parts of the original tree that look like separate stems now. Despite its ancient age, the tree is vital and green.

Llangernyw Yew, Conwy
Llangernyw Yew / Stemonitis, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.5
G

Llanerfyl Yew

3.3 out of 10 stars 32.8%

Wales, Powys

10.67 m (around all four trunks, 1998, 6.)

For some time there was a discussion about whether this ancient tree is a group of several trees or a single tree that divided into several trunks after the central part of the old trunk died away. DNA analysis though shows that these trunks belong to a single organism. According to a legend, this tree was planted 1400 years ago.

St. Erfyl's Church and Llanerfyl Yew
St. Erfyl’s Church and Llanerfyl Yew. / Dave Croker, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
H

Yew tree (No.3.) at Ystradfellte St. Mary’s Church

3.5 out of 10 stars 35.3%

Wales, Powys

10.67 m (around two trunks, 1998, 7.)

In the site of this former giant tree now is one smaller trunk with a circumference of 4.1 m. The measurement is made around a purported body of a former tree that was divided into several stems later. The other stem was cut in the 1990ies and now almost nothing shows the enormous size of the former tree.

Ystradfellte St. Mary's Church and the old cemetery with some (No.4. and No. 1.) yew trees visible.
Ystradfellte St. Mary’s Church and the old cemetery with some (No.4. and No. 1.) yew trees visible./ David Gearing, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
I

Payhembury Yew

3.7 out of 10 stars 36.7%

England, Devon

10.62 m (at the ground level around the four separate trunks, 1998, 8.)

It is rather well discernible that the four current trunks of Payhembury Yew belong to a single plant, a male tree. The central part of the tree a long time ago hollowed out and was gradually lost. The individual trunks are 4 m, 3.9 m, 3.4 m, and 2.7 m in circumference.

J

Ancient yew in Clun

2.7 out of 10 stars 27.3%

England, Shropshire

10.42 m (around the traces of the ancient trunk, 1998, 9.)

The tree today looks rather insignificant: it consists of several larger sprouts that grew out from the trunk of the former giant yew tree. The old trunk of this tree collapsed long ago – it, most likely was as old as the nearby Saxon church or even older. New wood developed over three fragments of the ancient trunk, gradually developing multiple twigs and now, in 2020ies it is nearly impossible to measure this chaos.

St. Georges Church in Clun. The remnant of the ancient yew is seen in the left side
St. George’s Church in Clun. The remnant of the ancient yew is seen in the left side./ Philip Pankhurst, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

References

  1. Yew/Yews at Ashbrittle England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 28, 2022
  2. Yew/Yews at Ciliau Aeron, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 27, 2022.
  3. European Yew in St Michael’s churchyard, Discoed, Wales, United Kingdom
    , Monumental Trees. Accessed on December 31, 2023.
  4. Yew/Yews at Breamore England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 27, 2022.
  5. European Yew in the churchyard of St Digain’s, Llangernyw, Wales, United Kingdom
    , Monumental Trees. Accessed on December 30, 2023
  6. Yew/Yews at Llanerfyl, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on May 7, 2023.
  7. Yew/Yews at Ystradfellte Wales, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 2, 2023.
  8. Yew/Yews at Payhembury England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 3, 2023.
  9. Yew/Yews at Clun England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 5, 2023.

 

WorldYellow Recommended books

Yew: A History


The yew is one of the most fascinating and versatile life forms on Earth, botanically rich and intriguing, and culturally almost without comparison. This impressive study of the yew reveals that in history, mythology, religion, folklore, medicine, and warfare, the yew bears timeless witness to a deep relationship with mankind. It is the tree that Darwin often rested beneath and under which he wanted to be buried.

The Ancient Yew: A History of Taxus baccata


The gnarled, immutable yew tree is one of the most evocative sights in the British and Irish language, an evergreen impression of immortality, the tree that provides a living botanical link between our own landscapes and those of the distant past. This book tells the extraordinary story of the yew’s role in the landscape through the millennia, and makes a convincing case for the origins of many of the oldest trees, as markers of the holy places founded by Celtic saints in the early medieval ‘Dark Ages’.


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