Scotland’s Yew Tree Heritage Initiative – SYTHI

We are passionate about yew trees. We are also fascinated by their significance in the history, culture, myth and mystery of Scotland.

Paul and Bryony measuring up for the SYTHI database
Paul and Bryony measuring up for the SYTHI database (Image: H Hain)

For a thousand years the yew has influenced events in Scottish history.  You may have heard of a few yews in Scotland, perhaps the world famous Fortingall yew in Perthshire. However, you may not be aware of the way many other yew trees also interweave through Scotland’s history and heritage. And there are more to be found, recorded and protected.

Unfortunately, this heritage is at risk – SYTHI (pronounced si-thee) is aware of several locations in Scotland where yews of over 300 years old have been lost due to land and/or building development and lack of recognition of their biological and cultural significance.

We want to raise awareness of this unique and irreplaceable heritage to improve its protection. To do this we are researching and recording the yew heritage in Scotland as its full extent is not currently known. As well as discovering new sites, we are verifying and updating information on sites already recorded since some of these data are over several decades old.

SYTHI’s role in seeking to protect Scotland’s Yew heritage

There are many people and organisations already working hard to protect and conserve Scotland’s tree heritage. All trees are important to the environment in their own way, however, SYTHI sees the yew as a particularly special – and seriously overlooked – case. SYTHI has already discovered that some significant yews have been lost due to this lack of recognition. These were yews which were part of the original landscape designs surrounding buildings created many centuries ago. The yews were planted to be as intrinsic to these historic places as the buildings. The buildings are protected in law as significant architectural heritage yet the yews – the living witnesses to the history of the location – are not. These losses are irreplaceable and the original ‘spirit of the place’ is also lost.

Organisations Supporting the Objectives of SYTHI

The Ancient Yew Group

The Conservation Foundation

The Native Woodlands Discussion Group

Iain Gray MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) for East Lothian

The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD)

Plant Consciousness

Many public and private landowners are unaware that they have culturally significant yews on their land. Providing education and information resources are vital in order to improve recognition for yews and reduce risks due to inaccurate health assessment, poor or improper care or unnecessary removal. Raising awareness of the yew heritage amongst children and young people needs to be addressed to facilitate long term protection of yews.

A major focus for raising awareness is the interactive online map showing yew sites as we find and record them, together with the associated history and heritage.

Paul at Ormiston

SYTHI also provides education and information about this priceless heritage to the general public, private landowners and relevant authorities through site visits and talks/presentations. Please get in touch if you are interested in this.

The interest and enthusiasm in the yew heritage in Scotland already ignited via site visits and talks has been palpable. It seems the yew and its story resonates deeply with the people of Scotland. Consequently we hope that a network of people interested in helping to locate yews, celebrating their local yews, and seeking ways to improve the protection of yews continues to develop.

If you find a yew site you’d like to let us know about, please get in touch via email below.  You are also very welcome to sign up to receive SYTHI newsletters.


We would like to deeply acknowledge the passion, dedication and very hard work of the Ancient Yew Group , The Conservation Foundation, Ancient Tree Forum, Ancient Tree Hunt, Caring for God’s Acre, The Woodland Trust, and the The Tree Register in inspiring this project.  Without all of their marvellous work we would not have the foundation we have on which we can now build SYTHI.

We greatly appreciate the amazing patience, support and skills offered by Kwai Lam (Website designer) and Michelle Garofano (Graphic designer), and the work of Michael Dunning and The Yew Mysteries.

And a very special thanks to Bryn Kenney and Donna Wilkinson, without whom SYTHI would not be where it is today.

To the wonderful network of  people from all walks of life already connected to the yew in their own ways, and who keep a look out for yews around Scotland.

And, of course, many thanks to our family and friends who have given support in many ways.

The deepest respect and gratitude must go to the yew itself.

SYTHI founders

SYTHI was conceived in 2017 by Paul Greenwood and Bryony Smith, and was initially a self-funded, voluntary project.

Paul has been researching yew trees for almost 30 years and also has a particular passion for the history of Scotland. His work highlighted the lack of up to date information about the extent of Scotland’s yew heritage. Meanwhile Bryony’s passion for the yew was developing through meetings with some significant yews, attending workshops on the Yew Mysteries with Michael Dunning and meeting others drawn to the yew tree.  Paul and Bryony met at a yew site in Scotland, and the seeds for SYTHI were planted.

Paul Greenwood and Bryony Smith
Bryony and Paul – co-founders of SYTHI (Image: Kwai Lam)

We started by self-funding the work required and then as the full extent of the work needed became clear, possible sources of funding were explored. As is often the case, many of the grants required the project to meet an institution’s specific aims which would have taken SYTHI away from its main focus. It was then decided to run a crowdfunding campaign, however, just as it was due to be launched, the lockdown response to the coronavirus situation was announced and it did not feel appropriate to continue.  Then, out of the blue, a very generous donation arrived, for which we are immensely grateful.   It enabled us to begin establishing the foundations of the project and cover necessary costs.

To continue the project we need to cover costs such as equipment, fieldwork expenses, and staffing time.  We hope to continue funding the project via talks and presentations, selling items we have made and from donations.  We will also reconsider making grant applications once the concept of SYTHI has proven itself and received increasing interest and support from the community.

Paul Greenwood

Paul Greenwood has been discovering, recording and researching Yew trees since 1991.

He is project coordinator of the independent research project Yew-Trees (1992 – present), co-founder member of the Ancient Yew Group (2004 – present) and manages the Yew Trees Facebook page.

Paul is the author of two e-books on the yew (currently unavailable due to revision) and has also written articles for various journals/organisations. He has appeared in, and been consulted by, the media and was featured in a BBC One North East and Cumbria TV programme as ‘The Yew Detective’ in 2004. During his research career he has worked alongside the late David Bellamy, and the late Robert Hardy in raising awareness of yew trees.  He has been a research and photographic contributor to the following books:  The Sacred Yew (Chetan & Brueton, Penguin Arcana, 1994); Yew: A History (Fred Hageneder, Sutton Press, 2011); Yew (Fred Hageneder, History Press, 2013); (author of Yew: A History); and, Da Vinci’s Last Commission  (Fiona Mclaren, Mainstream Publishing, 2012).

Bryony Smith

Bryony delights in introducing people to yew trees and is particularly interested in people’s personal experiences of the yew. It is as a result of her own experience with yew trees that she is committed to the intentions of SYTHI; recognising the importance of this tree for our wellbeing and its integral relationship with the history of the planet.  She is intrigued by how this relationship can stimulate and reawaken our connection to nature, place, and our ancestors, who many centuries ago met yews still alive today.

Alongside working on SYTHI Bryony runs a therapy clinic in East Lothian, where she offers Craniosacral and Somatic Trauma therapy sessions.