CHURCHES are being asked to help fight cancer with an unusual
weapon - their yew trees. The drug paclitaxel, which is used in
chemotherapy treatments for various cancers, can be made from yew
clippings, and one firm is appealing for churches with yew trees or
hedges to come forward.
Matthew Cooke, from Friendship Estates, said: "The clippings are
the raw material in the production of paclitaxel. . . We collect in
vans from all of mainland UK, and are interested in anyone who has
over 40 metres of hedge or equivalent topiary."
One church that sells its yew clippings is St Mary's, Painswick,
in the diocese of Gloucester. A churchwarden, David Bishop, said
that it had 123 yews in the churchyard, which produced
two-and-a-half tonnes of clippings each year.
"They are shipped off to this pharmaceutical firm in Germany,
and they are apparently a very good source of cancer drugs," he
said last week. "We had no idea until this firm mentioned it - it
was quite a surprise."
The proceeds of selling the clippings come to £100 more than the
cost of pruning the 300-year-old trees. The money is reinvested in
maintaining the churchyard, which costs St Mary's nearly £10,000 a
The environmental adviser tothe Archbishops' Council, David
Shreeve, said that because yew trees were evergreen, they did not
produce much new growth, which was where the chemical used in
paclitaxel was found.
"There are a few churchyards with several yew trees, but even
these may find it difficult, I suspect, to produce a commercial
harvest. The UK is said to have the world's largest collection of
ancient yews, and many of these are in churchyards.
"Several of those estimated to be at least 2000 years old - and
therefore alive at the time of Christ - were used to propagate some
8000 young trees, which were distributed at special services in
churches and cathedrals for local communities to celebrate the new
Mr Bishop said that his church was pleased to learn that its
ancient trees were helping people to recover from cancer. "It's
nice to have a very modern use for these old yew trees, which makes
them even more fascinating."