The yew tree in the forest - a rarity!

If you look at the natural range of the yew (green), you immediately notice that it should actually occur everywhere in our forests from Iran to southern Sweden. It is the most shade-tolerant tree species in Europe and was therefore found everywhere under the canopy of other trees as a so-called secondary tree species until before the Middle Ages.

If you look at today's natural occurrence of yew trees, you quickly realize that the yew tree has unfortunately become very rare in Europe's forests. There are still a few exceptions in England, France and Switzerland, more precisely in Zurich (More on that here!) If you look for a few ancient, formerly "sacred" yew trees, you will often find them next to churches today, Wales is very well known for this! The yew is often found today as a hedge in gardens and cemeteries - it is very popular with gardeners because of its tolerance to pruning. Yew trees are also usually found around palaces and castles, and the rulers were always careful to leave an emergency reserve of yew trees in the vicinity of fortifications. This and their fascinating ability to regenerate and permanence have probably saved them from complete extinction to this day!

But what happened to the yew that made it such a rarity in the forest today? Wasn't she up to the climatic changes? Has it been pushed out by other tree species? Did you have a pest such. B to fight the bark beetle or a deadly fungal disease?

Neither this nor that!

Unfortunately, the main reason for the near extinction of the European yew tree is none other than humans in several respects!

Yew wood has very unique properties (read more here!), which is why yew has been used by man since time immemorial! Whether as wood for sacred talismans, drinking cups, spouts, tool handles or weapons - yew wood has always been very popular!

From the 11th century it became the "wood of war" par excellence. The notorious English longbows and crossbow bolts were made from it and the yew tree was heavily overused to achieve political goals.

It was the 100-year war ( 1337 to 1453) between England and France that brought yew usage past its peak usage. Across the board, yew trees were cut down in the forests for bows and arrows. Especially in Germany and Austria, which were once home to a large number of yew trees, the yew stocks were cut down very heavily for trade with England. After all, the yew trees are said to have given the English victory in the 100-year war! (Here's a report about it!) When firearms and cannons were introduced into the European armies at the end of the 15th century , yew wood lost a great deal of its economic importance.

The intensified management of the forests with the help of horses made the yew tree, which is very toxic to horses, a "non-wood" and the number one enemy of foresters. That is why the yew was kept down and systematically eradicated - its slow growth and the resulting long rotation period (approx. 200 years) are also a reason for its continued economic "unattractiveness".

The system of felling forest management and the resulting sudden incidence of light on the forest floor also made it more difficult for the tree species, which needed a lot of shade when young, to reproduce naturally. Today, their ecological value is valued above all in the forest, which is why attempts are being made to naturally rejuvenate them in more modern forms of management such as "permanent forest management".

Another factor from the 19th century was certainly the urban sprawl and intensified agriculture, which increasingly pushed game from the fields into the forest. The roe deer as well as the red deer have a strong preference for the "yew green" and bite the slowly growing yew so hard that it is still a problem to rejuvenate the yew naturally in our forests. A more recent problem is the so-called peeling of large yew trees by deer, which was observed in 2017 at the Zurich "Albiskette" (More about this here!) .

Regulated wild and adequately protected yew stocks are therefore a concern of every true yew lover - otherwise it looks rather bleak for the yew in the future!

All these factors are responsible for the fact that the yew is a rarity in our forests!

Now you ask yourself, can and should you use yew wood at all? Should yew trees be replanted in the forests? And wouldn't it also make sense to regulate wildlife populations more through hunting and the establishment of predators?

In my opinion, all of these questions can be answered with a clear YES!

The use of yew wood should be allowed, as this can create economic interest and a market for yew wood - which, as long as it is used sustainably, can ensure long-term survival in the forest! The planting of real "forest yews" should be suggested to every forester where natural regeneration does not seem possible, because yews are ecologically and economically very valuable, you just have to have a slightly longer time horizon.

Hunting should regulate hoofed game stocks in favor of the yew trees and actively protect endangered stocks, since the yew tree is one of the few native coniferous tree species "compatible" with climate change, so one should set clear priorities, as hard as it may sound!

Let me know what you think about the topic in the comments!


  • Wir haben in unserer Hecke 3 Eiben als Gebüsch (wildgewachsen) die unseren Nachbarn ein Dorn im Auge sind. Wir und viele Vögel lieben diese Eiben sehr. Können uns unsere Nachbarn zwingen die Eiben zu entfernen? Sind sdiese micht geschützt?

  • Ich habe bei mir im wald eine ca.25meter hohe und mit einem durchmesser30-45cm dicke eibe. Dies ist der stolz menes waldes, haltet ihnen sorge.

    Peter Blöchlinger

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