Actor Brian Blessed tells us why he is a tree lover and what makes yews special
You voiced a ‘ talking yew’ at the Woodland Trust’s Great Knott Wood. What made you get involved?
First and foremost, my passion for trees. Trees are alive, have feelings and protect us. To give one a voice after it’s spent hundreds of years on Earth was a remarkable opportunity. I love that there are people hiking in the Lake District who suddenly have my voice booming out at them – I’ve scared quite a few, or so I’m told! It’s also the spot for a geocache box, so I’m even part of a treasure hunt.
If you were a tree, would you be a yew or something else?
Yews are brilliant, but I have to nab our most iconic tree for myself – so an oak, of course! Everyone loves an oak, especially the more ancient specimens. You’d be hard pushed to find someone who can’t appreciate their knobbly bark and broad branches. At the end of the day, all trees are more than just a bit of greenery. Every single one is an intriguing character that has become a beloved part of our landscape and history. They deserve to be celebrated and cherished the same as celebrities are. It reminds me of a Pamela Tennant poem: ‘But at night do you believe they’re trees?
They’re little old men with twisted knees!’
Britain’s ancient yews have had little formal protection. What can be done?
We have to make as many people aware as possible, and keep banging the drum. There’s no point being silent on the matter. Thankfully, planning law has now been changed, so ancient trees have the same protection as our built national heritage. It makes sense – why should a veteran tree be considered less important that an old church? What’s mad, though, is that many people don’t know where these giants are – they’re hiding in plain sight.
Do you have a favourite wood?
Tring Park in Hertfordshire is a fascinating place. In the 1970s, it was cut up by a major road, but once you’ve made it over a concrete bridge, it’s like stepping back in time. It was once connected to a stately home, so you can wander amongst tree avenues, and there’s an obelisk rumoured to be connected with ghosts, an abandoned summerhouse and a roundabout for a horse and carriage.
Ever tried relaxing by ‘ forest bathing’?
Can you believe I haven’t? I certainly look forward to trying it, though… any excuse to venture into lush, leafy terrains!
As a Yorkshireman, does the proposed new Northern Forest excite you?
It’s an ambitious, long-term plan to plant 50 million trees in and around the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull and is an area of the country dear to my heart – I am hugely happy that it will take place. My home is set to become greener and wilder – with northern folk at the heart of the action. People will create change and take ownership of the land, with all sorts of creatures reaping the benefits afterwards. It’s simply fantastic! Ben Hoare
S Every tree is an intriguing character that has become a beloved part of history. T
BRIAN BLESSED is an actor and tree lover who has also voiced bacteria for the Museum of London’s Beasts of London exhibition, which runs until 2020.