Conifer conservation – Heritage Hedges

Posted on by Kirsty Shaw
The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE, Scotland) has developed a novel approach to tree conservation: incorporating historic and threatened trees in a “Heritage Hedge”. The hedge includes material cultivated from the oldest Yew trees in the UK (Taxus baccata) and trees cultivated from seed collected from threatened Taxus species around the world. It will provide a valuable genetic resource for study and conservation.

The first plantings of the “Heritage Hedge” took place on April 8th 2014. The hedge extends around the perimeter of the garden and will eventually cover a length of 1km. It is estimated to take 10 years to complete.

About 20 percent of the hedge will consist of material cultivated from UK heritage Yew trees. At the heart of the project are progenies of the most ancient of all Yew Trees, the Fortingall Yew which stands in Aberfeldy, Perthshire.  Estimated to be 3,000 years old, it is thought to be the oldest living tree in the UK, if not in Europe.


Martyn Dickson, Supervisor of the Aboriculture team at RBGE, with Will Hinchcliffe, Senior Horticulturalist, and Tom Christian, Horticulturalist, preparing for planting of Heritage Hedge.

The hedge also contains trees cultivated from Bruce’s Yew in Stirlingshire, thought to be a tree that gave shelter to Robert the Bruce and his soldiers, and the John Knox Yew in Renfrewshire under which it is claimed the famous reformer gave his first sermon in 1556.

The rest of the hedge will be made up of material cultivated from Yew populations worldwide where the Taxus genus is listed nationally as threatened. In total, 14 foreign countries will be represented in the hedge including the Czech Republic, Albania and Croatia.  Seed collections have also come from Yew forests in Sochi, Russia as well as from Crimea.

The ‘Heritage Hedge’ initiative provides an important conservation resource for threatened and historic Yew trees and will generate public engagement and interest in conifer conservation. The initiative adds to the impressive conifer conservation work already carried out by RBGE, including the International Conifer Conservation Programme and the iCONic project

Find out more about threatened Yew trees on the Global Trees Campaign website.

Find out more about threatened conifers on the RBGE Threatened Conifer website.

Click here to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh website.

Written by Kirsty Shaw

Kirsty is a Head of Ecological Restoration and Tree Conservation at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), working on the Global Trees Campaign and botanic garden led forest restoration initiatives in Africa.

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