A DEDICATED churchwarden hopes his ancient yew tree will be named the UK’s best.

The Wilmington Yew, thought to be 1,600 years old, sits in the grounds of St Mary and St Peter’s Church in the village near Eastbourne.

The Woodland Trust has placed the ancient tree on its England Tree of the Year shortlist.

Churchwarden John Marshall has tended the Wilmington Yew for 25 years.

The 82-year-old told The Argus the “splendid” tree deserves to be named the country’s best.

“It’s a wonderful tree by a church,” John said.

“It’s in a splendid position.

“Many old yew trees are in a decrepit state naturally.

“But because of the props [keeping the branches up], ours still looks magnificent.

“For many years it had a set of props which were redundant.

“Last year we had them completely re-done.”

The Argus: Churchwarden John Marshall has cared for the yew tree for about 25 yearsChurchwarden John Marshall has cared for the yew tree for about 25 years

The ancient tree is believed to have been planted by pagans in about 400 AD.

More than 600 years later St Mary and St Peter’s Church was built next to it in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest.

The tree’s branches are propped up with beams to ensure they do not droop.

Churchwarden Mr Marshall has cared for the tree ever since he moved to Wilmington about 25 years ago.

“I didn’t know about this before I moved to Wilmington but I’ve become more and more familiar with it,” he said.

“Now there aren’t that many people who could take over [as churchwarden].”

Woodland Trust chief executive Darren Moorcroft said trees are “easily overlooked and routinely undervalued”.

“At a time when we’re fighting both a climate and nature crisis, it is undeniable that trees are needed now more than ever,” he said.

“They are nature’s most powerful weapon in this fight.

The Argus: The tree is thought to be about 1,600 years old. Photo: Tessa ChanThe tree is thought to be about 1,600 years old. Photo: Tessa Chan

“Lockdown had so many of us slowing down and taking more note of nature on our doorsteps, a boost for our mental health and wellbeing.

“This competition is a very simple way to show people do care about trees.”

The Wilmington Yew is competing against nine other trees from across England.

The tree with the most votes will receive £1,000 for its care.

The winner will then face off against the most popular trees in Scotland and Wales to be selected to represent the UK in next year’s European Tree of the Year contest.

Describing the Wilmington Yew, a Woodland Trust spokeswoman said: “Growing among the graves, this enormous yew tree is more than 1,000 years old.”

To vote, visit woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear.