Where next with the petition?

This week I’m delivering the 3 paintings on this blog to the Cric Gallery, in Crickhowell, near the Brecon Beacons in Monmouthshire, for the Winter/Christmas exhibition.

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‘Yew and well 5’ watercolour painting by Janis Fry

I’ve been quietly recovering from the Campaign for Legal Protection of Ancient Yews and the Tree Conference at Frome, writing yew articles and wondering where we go next with the petition.

I have to say the Tree Conference was one of the most dynamic, innovative, inspirational and hopeful events I have ever had the honour to take part in! Well done Suzy Martineau who organised it. In amongst all the devastating challenge of climate change and extinction, trees obviously make a huge difference and the conference highlighted lots of wonderful people who are reforesting and helping to change the climate in the right direction. Andy Egan of the International Tree Foundation along with Teresa Gitonga of Kenya, who helped communities plant 20 million trees, showed how planting trees, changed the local climate, brought back the rains and enabled crops to grow once again while Isabella Tree, talked about her book, ‘Wilding’, and her experience of returning a 200 acre farm, which would grow no crops due to intensive farming, to Nature to restore the land to health. In the process bio diversity increased massively and rare plants, insects, animals and birds returned.

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The Owl’ monoprint with watercolour painting by Janis Fry

Meanwhile on the advise of Paul, our Barrister for the Campaign for Legal Protection of Ancient Yews, I got together a coalition of politicians, people from the church, arboriculturalists, tree writers, landowners and other interested parties, to oversee the petition of 10,800 signatures gained in 30 days, going to Parliament.

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4,000 year old ancient yew at Linton

BUT… having learnt from the Tree Council that they have spent 23 years trying to get legal protection for ancient yews and the Woodlands Trust who warned me it could take decades more, as some people are not working with us, Paul and I have decided to widen the campaign to draw in others who can advise on the best way to translate the campaign into political action. The project will be announced shortly but basically on a mutually convenient weekend, we will take you on a tour of the oldest and most magnificent yews in England and Wales. I, (one of the UK’s foremost specialists in ancient yew trees) will talk to you of their history, mythology and botany and Paul will tell you about the legal protection of trees. We will sort out transport, accommodation and food and at the end of the weekend, you will get a signed copy of my book, ‘The God Tree’, to take away.  How’s that?

Janis Fry Art

What we ask in return is that, hopefully inspired by wonder at these ancient trees, you will give us 10-15 hours of your time and skills (at your convenience) to help us campaign for proper legal protection for ancient yew trees, so that future generations can continue to marvel at them.

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The Templar Font’ watercolour painting by Janis Fry.

Watch this space and my Facebook page for the official announcement of our project!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fate, Destiny and the Yew Tree

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We’re into the last week now of the Campaign for Legal protection of Ancient Yews (https://chn.ge/2MAhjZK) and then we’ll see whether we’ve made the magic number of 10,000 for the petition to be heard in Parliament! Today we’re short of just 2,500 signatures. Please do everything you can to recruit people to sign.

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Through the Portal at Llangattock Juxta Usk. What lies on the other side?

As Tony Hall says in his new book published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, called ‘The Immortal Yew’,

‘The future of these amazing living relics is becoming increasingly uncertain, not only due to their great age and to climate change….but also because they lack effective legal protection, as Tree Protection Orders are often flouted. Many have survived because they are on sacred ground, but even this safety may now be under threat. Dwindling congregations have led to many churches being sold off for development. As a result some of these magnificent old trees, which have survived for so many centuries could be at risk.’

This is the problem in a nutshell and the die is cast.

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‘The double fatal tree.’ Painting Janis Fry

‘The double fatal tree’, is what the Roman writers like Virgil, called the yew tree. Fate and Destiny is central to the yew as is Life, Death and Rebirth. Trinity goddesses such as Hecate, Persephone and Nemesis are directly connected with the yew.

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A Roman altar found close to the Gresford Yew, shows Nemesis (or the equivalent god Atropos) with the shears, cutting the thread of life.

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On the next side of this altar stone is the chevron, the Yew symbol. The side after that shows an empty archway and the last, the archway with the cosmic disc. The altar symbols speak to us from across the ages, of the going out from life and the coming in, governed by the yew. Keeper of graveyards, the yew stands guard over ways in and out of the Otherworld.

Yews aren’t always connected with a lucky Fate however, although they were known to have been planted as protector trees. One such ancient yew very much connected with Fate, is the Crowhurst Yew in Sussex, known as the cleaved tree. King Edward on his deathbed said that when the cleaved tree came together then and only then would there be peace again. It hasn’t happened yet.

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Crowhurst Yew

King Harold’s palace stood right next to the cleaved tree. It may have been expected to protect him. The famous Bayeux Tapestry shows several trees which document the sites where each event in the Battle of Hastings took place. This is evidence that historian Nick Austen uses, to present his case that the Battle of Hastings actually took place at Crowhurst, where Harold was destined to lose his life and the throne of England.

At the Great Fraser Yew above Loch Ness, a yew which unfortunately was left off my list of ancient yews, things went a lot better. The night before the Battle of Culloden, the Fraser clan gathered at their yew for a counsel of war and a night of drinking with a wild ceilidh, before going into battle the next day. The yew however protected it’s own and while everyone else perished, the Frasers woke up late to find it was all over.

Like Nemesis, the yew is capable of divine retribution. Be careful what you swear to under the yew. The oath, once called the Oath Super Baculum, where people swore on a yew staff, was at one time considered to be more binding than swearing on the Bible! At the Ankerwycke Yew at Runnymede, King John discovered this to his cost. In 1215 he swore an oath to the Magna Carta but less than a year later he died, having reneged on the agreement.

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Ankerwycke Yew

The Campaign for Legal Protection for Ancient Yews

With the Campaign for Legal Protection of Ancient Yews well under way, and signature numbers up to 4,000, (we need 10,000 for it to be heard in Parliament!), people want to know more about yew trees and also how I got involved with them. It’s quite a story!

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It all started for me in about 1976. One day, while driving around the countryside, I stumbled across Aberglasney at Llangathen, in old Carmarthenshire. In those days it was a derelict country house, originally  a priory and now a beautiful restored garden, open to the public. I was at Art college, was fascinated by such places and started going there to draw and explore. I found a hole in a hedge and like Alice in Wonderland, fell through it and found myself in another world!  It was the 1,000 year old yew tunnel. Over my head it formed a vast network of branches and I couldn’t tell which tree a branch grew from. I thought it was the 8th wonder of the world and from then on was completely captivated by yew trees. Although the gardens are now beautiful, the yew tunnel is much ‘tidied up’, civilised, tamed and brought under control. David Bellamy described it as unique in Europe and tried to prevent this happening but one day it will outlive us all and may return to it’s natural state.

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This was one of the first watercolour paintings I ever did. My work has changed a lot since then!

In the 80’s and 90’s I became involved with the campaign to save the Gwenlais Valley in Carmarthenshire from quarrying. This was Britain’s longest running environmental battle and it took 13 years of my life but we won! I wrote the book about it, called ‘Warriors at the Edge of Time’, still available from the publishers, Capall Bann and I learnt a lot about yew trees! The campaign centred around the 1400 year old yew in the valley which grew over the Holy Well of Gwenlais and which was said to be the Guardian of the Valley. The threat to the valley began a month after it was cut down. By the end of the campaign the tree had regenerated and come back to life!

Gwenlais Valley Yew

From one campaign to another, the next one was Friends of the Ankerwycke Yew. This is history now but the yew, the site of the Magna Carta agreement, was threatened with demolition for a golf course! Planning was in full swing when we came along and the tree was given  an Emergency Tree Protection Order

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Nowadays it carries this notice, thanks to FAY (Friends of the Ankerwycke Yew, launched by Patrick Curry)

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The yew tree encourages us to think deeply about things. It connects us back to the beginning of time and forward into the far distant future. The centre of this, the present moment, is that point of pure consciousness. Something I like to reflect on, is that what God and the Yew have in common, is that connecting, eternal, indestructible energy, that resists defeat and inspires hope.

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The Campaign for Legal Protection for Ancient Yews

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People of the Defynnog Yew

This week we are launching a very important campaign on Change.org. CLICK HERE to sign.  A radio show I recorded a little while back gives a bit more information.

BBC RADIO YEW PROGRAMME LINK

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LLanfeugan, Pencelli, Breconshire

In Britain and particularly in Wales, we have the largest collection of ancient yews on earth and yet these trees have no legal protection and could be destroyed without incurring any penalty. Yews, known as immortal giants, are the oldest living trees and as a result of some 40 years research, we believe there are approximately 35 yews in Wales between the ages of 2 and 5,000 years and in the rest of Britain around 82, making a total of 117 yew trees. 3 of the 4 ancient yews over 5,000 years old, are in Wales. The vast majority of these trees are in churchyards.

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Peterchurch, Herefordshire 

With the demise of the Church in our times and the closure of many churches, which are becoming redundant and being sold off, the need to protect these ancient yew trees, is becoming more urgent. Although in the past, the Church has been responsible for having some yews cut down, on the whole, the yews have been afforded a good degree of protection until now.

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Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, Clwyd

There are thousands of yews in Britain of around a thousand years old and it seems unlikely we will ever get protection for them all but we need to at least protect the yews in this truly ancient category of over 2 thousand years of age, for future generations. We need fines that equal those in parts of Europe where yews of just a few hundred years are protected with fines of 50,000 euros. Our yew trees are our unique living heritage. All that is available at present to protect them are Tree Protection Orders that carry fines which are not large enough to put off developers and which take a community some effort to obtain, even if they have the time, energy and inclination to do so. What we need is some blanket protection. A list of these trees can be found on my website:- www.janisfryart.co.uk

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For thousands of years, the yew was considered sacred in Wales and there were old laws that protected them which date back to Pope Gregory in around 600 AD, the laws of Hywel Dda, in the 10th century and the Synod of Exeter in 1287. At one time, Saint’s yews known as Taxus Sanctus, were considered to have enormous importance and no one dared touch them. These laws were reviewed in the time of Edward 1st in the year 1307 who gave them the Royal Seal of approval and later in the Houses of Parliament in 1781. The law is still active and has never been revoked but there also has never been a test case since those times and so the old laws need restating and being brought up to date.

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The Ankerwycke Yew, Runnymede, site of the Magna Carta agreement

Ancient trees are an awesome link with our past history and it is unimaginable, but also entirely possible, that they could disappear unchallenged. The time to act is now. Please sign our petition to gain proper protection for our ancient yews. Don’t leave it till it is too late.

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Waking the dragon

 

Pre Christian Yew sites

This week I’ve been out and about in mid Wales, looking at pre Christian yew sites.

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The first place we went to was a place called Battle. No one knows when the battle was but the area has plenty of hill forts and the church, a hill top site, was originally a much bigger, circular raised burial mound. Many of the old round barrows of thousands of years ago, became church sites and are sometimes still home to the really ancient yews, some of which are 5,000 years old and older still.

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This yew at Battle is on the north side of the church, which indicates a Neolithic planting, particularly when the yew is a male. However this strangely shaped yew which looks like it’s been battered by storms over the years, doesn’t look that old and is perhaps more likely to have been a pagan planting in the Christian era. 

Maesmynydd is an extraordinary place on top of a mountain, miles from anywhere! Here we found a male yew on the north side of the church and although the tree is only 14 feet in girth, it could still be a Neolithic planting but we couldn’t find samples of the old wood needed to find out. Very old yews can also shrink as they age while others get bigger! Yews this old are normally male and on the north side of the burial mound, although the yew at Defynnog is an exception.

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After this we went to the circular hill top site churchyard at Old Radnor, where we found an ancient yew with a pre Christian standing stone! These are not as rare as people think and point to the origins of the site. There were other old stones in the church yard wall from the time of the earlier pagan religion which played out at this site.

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In Old Radnor church is a font which is perhaps 8th century and which is said to have been made from one of the standing stones from a group of 4 or 5 such stones near by.

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Finally our journey ended at the site of the famous 5,000 year old yew at Discoed. This is a male yew on the north side. The site is in a commanding position, a circular hill top site with a Holy Well and a steep drop to the river on one side. It is a ditched enclosure. Opposite the church graveyard is a pre Christian mound which is an early burial site known as a cyst and other old yews which may have been marker trees grow in the surrounding area. Discoed is likely to have been an important place where people gathered in pre Christian times

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On the south side of the church site is an enormous female Saxon yew which is so big you could be forgiven for thinking it was the older tree! though size is not the most important thing when gauging how old a yew is.

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I had a great time here picking huge perfect blackberries which I made into a blackberry and apple pie when I got back home!

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Memory Lane

Last week I went with my old friend Kate, to Rhossili, at the end of the Gower Peninsula near Swansea in South Wales. Rhossili was voted the best beach in the UK and 9th best in the whole world!

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Years ago in the 1980’s I made the church banner for Rhossili church when my husband’s auntie and uncle lived there. It was nice to see it was still in use and that they still print a leaflet about it and how it came to be made.

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There are no yew trees, ancient or not at Rhossili. In fact there are very few in the whole of Gower but on our way there we visited one ancient yew at Llanrhidian at the church of St. Rhidian and St Illtyd. The photo here doesn’t do it justice. This is a proud female tree with a hollow trunk and a girth of 21 feet, or 640 cms., commanding an elevated position above the church where it has stood for some 1,400 years. It may have been planted by St. Rhidian. It is sad that the ivy will eventually be the undoing of the yew unless it is removed.

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After lunch Kate and I thought we’d walk to the Worm’s Head but it was far too hot! Years ago I made a lot of paintings of this strange landscape feature. In Wales, a worm is a dragon.

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In fact I have always been fascinated by the sea, painting rain on the sea.

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And moonlight on water.

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I can never stay away from the sea for very long. Somehow it was all destined to end up at Le Pouldu!

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Open Studio July 2018

Last week was the Tywi Valley Open Studios and I had an absolutely wonderful time! and will definitely do it again next year.

I sold a lot of old work including this handpainted silk kimona.

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Handpainted Silk Geraniums Kimona

In fact I sold 3 kimonas, including one of Begonias and another of Cyclamen, left over from the days when I ran an international company, 30 years ago and won 3 Design Council Awards! I’ve been hanging on to this old work ever since but in the end you have to make space for the new. Would you believe they used to take 3 weeks each, what with the drawings, tracing, painting, dyeing and sewing.

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Venice Door 2

This is a little watercolour painting from long ago, which I just sold. I did this sitting beside the canal in Venice. It’s a bit like saying goodbye to old friends but I need a bit more than standing room only in my second bedroom, which has become the painting store!

Here’s a painting I did before I really began to focus on painting the yew. It’s called the ‘Golden Tree above the Well’.

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And another one of Trees in a Hedgerow.

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‘Trees in a Hedgerow’

While the open Studio was on, and I was digging deep in the map cabinet drawers for old work, I took the opportunity to darken the space framed by the trees in the middle, which previously had made too strong a shape which I didn’t like. I often alter old paintings, sometimes changing them quite drastically, as with this painting called ‘Under the Yew’.

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‘Under the Yew’

This piece started life as a watercolour with oil pastel, done in the woods at le Pouldu where I do the Gauguin Painting Holidays. I liked the colours I’d used and the atmosphere but it seemed a bit pointless, without a real subject and so years later I added the steps and the yew. It’s good to revisit old work and I get a lot of satisfaction in making an old painting that was never quite right, become something. All part of the creative process! Some people don’t get it. They can’t understand that a scene can come out of your mind and not be a real place!