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Castle History

Friends Forward Plan



On Sunday, November 26, 2006, The Friends of Elvaston were both pleased and privileged to be able to host a visit to Elvaston Castle Country Park by a recognised paladin of the yew tree, Tim Hills. For the last nine years Tim, who is based in Bristol, has, supported by his colleagues, travelled the country compiling a gazetteer of yew trees -  both the ancient specimens and also those which are only a few hundred years old – in order to both extend our scientific knowledge of these leviathans of the tree world, and also to ensure that they receive proper cataloguing and protection. Even as I write the Ancient Yew Group are involved in several cases where yews have either been illegally felled or are threatened with felling.

The work of Tim and his colleagues is chronicled on their website;


Anyone visiting the website can learn all about the important work which is being carried out on the care and protection of such an important part of our heritage and can also see no fewer than 15 photographs of some of the yew trees at Elvaston Castle, taken by Tim. These can be found on the Yew Gazetteer page by scrolling down to Elvaston Castle Country Park and clicking on both the Site Information and the Tree Information.

The yew is important elsewhere too, particularly in Europe, and especially in Germany, which has a thriving society called Eibenfreunde - Friends of the Yew. This group is not only active in yew research but every year plans an extended visit to study yew in other parts of the world.  This year the Ancient Yew Group hosted a 10 day visit by 38 of their foresters, botanists and dendrologists from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. At every woodland site visited in the south of England the observation was made about the lack of regeneration. One of the features of Elvaston that adds to its unique nature is the amount of regeneration that can be observed.

Most of Europe lost its yew forests to feed Britain’s need for wood suitable for long bows, it would be appalling if one of our potential yew forests of the future was lost for a golf course or land development.

On Sunday’s visit Tim took literally scores of photographs from various areas of the yew stock in Elvaston Castle Country Park. Whilst Irish yew is present (and welcomed), the primary reason for the visit was to photograph and assess the collection of Common or European yews at Elvaston, much of it forming part of the planting scheme of William Barron, for the 4th Earl of Harrington. Although there has been quite a lot written about Barron’s inspired and innovative work, its interpretation can not always be fully appreciated due to the less rigorous maintenance regime in the years since he had the luxury of ninety gardeners to tend the Estate! 

One definitely positive outcome was Tim’s proclamation of the major importance of Elvaston to the national yew collection. “I hope that the people of Derby realise just what they have here at Elvaston”, he said – “The collection on this site is unique, and irreplaceable”. It should also be noted that Elvaston can boast a yew cultivar – Taxus baccata Elvastonensis. The Friends are both pleased and proud to have played a part in the recognition of yet another important factor of our national heritage at Elvaston. It is an absolute gem of a place. 

On a footnote; We are reminded that William Barron was the man responsible for the relocation of the great Buckland yew at Dover, an act revered amongst yew experts because of the difficulty of carrying out such an act successfully. The yew, possibly 1500 years old at the time of moving, had split apart and each part was practically parallel with the soil. The tree, with a massive root ball, with an estimated total weight of 56 tons, was moved approximately 60 yards to a new location and replanted in a much more erect and upright position, where the tree has continued to thrive, a monumental feat of both engineering and surgical botany. What a privilege it is to be able to say that here in Derby we have an entire Estate that was transformed by the genius and imagination of this man. It can rightly be said that he was to trees and botany what Brunel was to engineering.


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