Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Ancient Yew Forest of Kingley Vale

The Ancient Yew Forest of Kingley Vale  is tucked between Stoke Down and Bow Hill, adjacent the village of West Stoke just 3 miles north west of Chichester, in West Sussex in southern England, is Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve. It was established in 1952, and it was one of the first National Nature Reserves to be opened in Britain. The nature reserve occupied an area of 160 hectares, including one of the finest yew forests in Western Europe. Even though, few trees are as much as 1,000 years old, their trunks contorted by age and countless storms into unbelievably strange shapes. Hence, huge side branches swirl into the soil like snakes, where they made secondary roots. Therefore, the young trees have arisen and the ground under these trees is so dense that no vegetation of any kind, not even grass, grows.  Therefore it is hard to say how old the yews are at Kingley Vale and is one of the few major groves of yews remaining today. Moreover, according to local folks the yews at Kingley Vale were planted as a memorial for a battle fought between the Vikings and the Anglo Saxons in the year 859, but some sources claim the trees are two thousand years old.

Yews naturally have lifespans between 500 to 600 years, but some specimens can live longer. The yew age is extremely difficult to determine because as the trees grows, their trunks becomes hollow which makes ring counting and carbon dating difficult as there is hardly any old wood left. Furthermore, yews have this rare aptitude to arrest their growth for centuries on end if conditions are harsh, until the environment becomes favorable again which revives the tree, and it starts growing again. Nevertheless, during these years, the tree ends adding tree rings and girth to its trunk. So, defining the age of yews is, henceforth, mostly guesswork. Also, there’re claims as high as 5,000 to 9,500 years, but these values are unrealistic. However, the existence of the Kingley Vale yews is extraordinary because most ancient yew trees across Europe were felled after the 14th century when English bowmen started preferring staves to be made from straight-grained yew wood, which is reputedly the solidest coniferous timber in the world. Thus, this wood was imported by royal decree with barrels of wine from Portugal and Spain.

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