Church "incapable" of stopping parishes harming ancient trees - Barrell

The Church must address its poor record in protecting the many valuable historic trees, particularly yews, in its churchyards, Barrell Tree Consultancy managing director Jeremy Barrell has said.

Remains of an ancient churchyard yew in Llangammarch, Powys - Image: Barrell Tree Consultancy
Remains of an ancient churchyard yew in Llangammarch, Powys - Image: Barrell Tree Consultancy
Barrell will be among attendees at a conference on protecting churchyard trees in London on 2 November, organised by the Conservation Foundation.

"There is clear evidence that irreplaceable trees are being lost on a regular basis because the Church as an organisation seems to be incapable of controlling its local operatives," he said. "This is not a question of malicious intent; just incompetent mangement at the local level, and this is what needs to be brought under control."

Citing three examples he had witnessed in churches in the Welsh Marches, an area with many ancient yews, he said: "The Church does know better, but it should do better. Instead we get feeble apologies, and the trees keep being lost."

Ancient tree recorder Paul Wood added: "I have visited 250-plus churches in the last 18 months throughout Powys, Shropshire and Herefordshire amongst many, and 90 per cent of these have yews under threat and mis-managed."

At the event, London Tree Officers Association chairman John Parker, who is also arboriculture advisor for Diocese of Southwark, will explain the environmental, economic and social benefits of churchyard trees.

A similar conference was held in Liverpool Cathedral on 6 October, of which Church of England senior Church Buildings Officer Dr David Knight said: "We can be so timid in our care for churchyards and trees.

"The tree conference gave us many reasons to be confident in our care for trees and management of churchyards. Our trees are one of many ways that a church congregation can reach out to its community and share the welcome of the Gospel."

Britain is home to the vast majority of Europe's ancient yews, many of which are in churchyards, but unlike other countries they receive no statutory protection and must be individually given a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), which is not always granted.

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