Wallace Tree visit highlights importance of yew trees to Scottish history

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed East Lothian residents Paul Greenwood and Bryony Smith, the founders of Scotland’s Yew Tree Heritage Initiative, to the MSP Garden at Holyrood to help promote the importance of yew trees to Scotland’s history and culture.

The pair visited the garden to photograph the little known feature of the Scottish Parliament, The Wallace Tree, grown from a cutting of the original Wallace Yew Tree in Elderslie, Renfrewshire and planted in the members’ garden at Holyrood.

Mr Greenwood, who has been researching yews for almost 30 years, contacted Mr Gray to ask if it would be possible to visit Parliament and photograph the tree as part of their ongoing work on promoting the heritage of yew trees in Scotland, which the county’s MSP was very happy to facilitate.

East Lothian is an important location for yew trees in Scotland, which as a matter of course in their life cycle can reach ages well in excess of 1,000 years in Britain and perhaps as much as 2,500. The Whittinghame (or ‘Darnley’) Yew and Great Yew of Ormiston are among the best known in Scotland.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

The Wallace Tree in Holyrood was grown from a cutting of the original Wallace Yew Tree in Elderslie. Legend has it that Wallace hid in its branches to escape an English patrol which was searching for him, a great example of yew trees being part of Scottish history.

Although the original tree is still standing it has been damaged by fire and storms and is now dying of a Ganoderma fungus infection. Both Renfrewshire Council and the Scottish Parliament have taken cuttings of the tree to be grown as replacements.

After being contacted by Paul I was pleased to meet him and Bryony at Parliament. We sought permission to photograph the tree in the member’s garden and they told me more about it and the wider subject of Scotland’s yew tree heritage.

It was a pleasure to welcome them both to Holyrood to assist with their initiative and to hear Paul speak passionately about why yew trees are integral to Scotland’s history and culture.”

Paul Greenwood said:

The cutting from William Wallace’s Yew planted in the member’s private garden at the Scottish Parliament is a prime example of how relevant the recorded and potential yew heritage is to the very fabric of Scotland and the history of the people

There are many yews in Scotland which are overlooked as being the oldest living links to so much of Scottish history and the lives of e.g. St Columba, Robert Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots to name but a few. In fact they are as much a part of our history – and the landscapes upon which that history was written – as any church, ancient monument, statue, castle or grand estate but, unlike these, the yew will outlast all of them if left alone to do so.

The voice of the yew in Scottish history has been increasingly reduced to a whisper in recent centuries but it is still there to be heard, if we are prepared to learn to listen to it, raise awareness of it and protect what it has to say for the benefit of future generations.”

SYTHI – Scotland’s Yew Tree Heritage Initiative – aims to establish a comprehensive and accurate archive of the extent of Scotland’s yew tree heritage in order to preserve and protect an important and irreplaceable aspect of Scotland’s history. The information collected will be made available on an interactive website, becoming a resource to inform, educate and raise awareness of all aspects of this heritage and assist local communities, groups and individuals in celebrating and protecting it. It will also provide a baseline for long term monitoring of the yew population in Scotland.

There is a chapter waiting to be written in the natural and cultural history of Scotland involving a veiled and hidden treasure Scotland does not know it possesses, but this can only happen with resources being available to make it happen. SYTHI is clearly and ideally placed to play a significant role in contributing to the protection and preservation of Scotland’s yew tree heritage.

A Crowdfunding campaign to support the work of SYTHI and help take it to the next stage of development involving establishing an office base at Cockenzie House, Cockenzie, East Lothian will be launched on 21st March 2020. Cockenzie House was chosen as it was built by the Setons whose family plant badge is the yew. Anyone interested in learning more or supporting the work of SYTHI please contact Paul at yewtreesuk@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/yewtreesbritain

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