The Thousand Year Tree book

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“Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single organism.”

-David Attenborough

The Surrey Hills National Landscape is one of the most wooded protected landscapes in England. With over 41% woodland cover, 14% of this is made up of ancient woodland. The future conservation of these ancient trees is a matter of national importance. The Yew Tree Conservation Project was piloted at Newlands Corner to protect one of the most significant yew tree groves in the world, with yew trees that are over 1,000 years old.

This project proposes to celebrate these trees, centred around co-creation of a children’s book, that will act as an educational resource resulting in a lasting legacy to support conservation and knowledge of these trees. This exciting project brings together children from across Surrey, helping them to discover the heritage, of these special trees. Working with a highly experienced local author/illustrator team, children will work together to learn the skills of book creation, whilst researching the history these trees have witnessed over a thousand years of time, and the ways in which we can all work together to protect them into the future.

‘This project works with thirty two Y4 children from the Weyfield Primary Academy, Guildford, as well as children from a local specialist SEND provider, to deliver a project that is truly co-created, diverse and inclusive.

This includes:

  • Inspirational on-site workshops at Newlands Corner, for children to discover more about the Yew Trees and their environmental needs
  • Writing workshops to explore the historical events the trees have witnessed, learn about picture book creation, discover poetic writing techniques, and create written content for the book
  • Illustration workshops, to explore picture book creation, page layout and artistic techniques, and create artwork for the book
  • A professional process of text editing and artworking to finalise a co-created children’s ‘book’
  • A Surrey-wide competition open to all children, celebrating the project and inviting designs for the book’s endpapers

Lucy Reynolds is a successful children’s author and book creator, with a deep-rooted interest in nature and conservation and a PhD in C19th poetry. Lucy is also an experienced community project manager, and has delivered far-reaching co-creation projects with schools and charity partners. Lucy lives near Godalming and is a frequent visitor to Newlands Corner as well as running regular nature-themed author events with Surrey County Council, Surrey Libraries and the Surrey Hills Society. 

Katie Hickey is a celebrated children’s illustrator, with a passion for clever, inventive and beautiful design and a long list of children’s book clients including Bloomsbury, Walker Books, Frances Lincoln, Puffin and Macmillan. Katie graduated from Falmouth University and now lives near Godalming, where she takes inspiration from her surroundings to create characterful and atmospheric images.

Surrey Hills Society is an independent charity promoting the enjoyment and conservation of the Surrey Hills National Landscape. The aims of the Society are summed up by four words: Educate, Inspire, Conserve and Enjoy. The Society encourages people to explore and learn about the special qualities and distinctiveness of the area, through walks, talks, events, conservation activities and volunteering.

Surrey Hills National Landscape

Surrey County Council

Guildford Book Festival

Surrey Libraries

Old Dungate Press

The Thousand Year Tree book competition

Calling all 4-11-year-olds! Be part of the Thousand Year Tree book by helping us design the inside covers! Pick up a template from any library or download one below and create a design focused on nature.  

The winner will have their design printed in ‘The Thousand Year Tree’ book. 

The competition runs from 1 June to 4 September 2024 and entries can be returned to any library.

Workshop updates from Lucy & Katie

Delighted to officially launch the ‘Thousand Year Yew Tree’ book creation project with a whole school assembly at the Weyfield Primary Academy. 

As our chosen school for the project, the Weyfield children were so excited to hear about their upcoming trips to explore the ancient yew trees at Newlands Corner and a run of creative workshops through which they’ll bring to life the history and environmental value of these incredible thousand year old trees.

We can’t wait to see what beautiful words and pictures emerge and the stunning picture book the children will create together.

Into the woods! Kicking off the ‘Thousand Year Yew Tree’ children’s book creation project with a field trip to Newlands Corner for the Y4 children of Weyfield Primary Academy Guildford.

The ancient trees at Newlands Corner in Surrey represent one of the oldest groves of yew trees in Europe and have stood here for over a thousand years, quietly watching history unfold. But their future now hangs in the balance and the trees have been struggling in recent times through root compaction and depleted water reserves.

Surrounding the trees and celebrating the new boardwalk that protects their roots, we explored the folklore and history of the trees, learned how these magnificent giants are a haven for precious species such as Dormice and Satin Beauty Moths, and tuned into all our senses to capture the visual and tactile uniqueness of each tree. We also measured the girth of the largest – a staggering 7.2 metres! It took four children and a very long piece of string to pin down the dimensions…

Finally, we created a poetic reference kit to be used in the poetry writing workshops, as children came up with rich descriptive language, similes and adjectives to capture the essence and fabric of the trees before them. 

It was so inspirational and uplifting to see thirty children completely engaged with and immersed in nature. Over the weeks ahead we’ll work together to co-create a beautiful children’s book that captures the history and helps protect the future of these precious trees. We can’t wait to see what the children create… 

We’ve planned a book! And managed to plot a thousand years of history across twenty pages, from the Domesday Book, through the Magna Carta, Great Famine, Black Death, War of the Roses, Protestant Reform, Gunpowder Plot, Industrial Revolution, sinking of the Titanic, First World War, Second World War, and on into the present day…Nice work, kids! We were all blown away by the length of the timeline and just how much monumental history these trees have witnessed. 

To balance this, and give a sense of perspective for the narrative, we then tuned into our nature knowledge to think about how a thousand year old yew tree would have rooted, grown and changed in that time, and all the different elements in the natural world that will have stayed the same through a thousand years. So as the yew has transformed from a tiny berry, to a sapling, to a young tree to an ancient giant, the world’s kept turning, year on year, with its storms and seasons, nesting birds, stars and moons, sun rises and sunsets, and all the human emotions that still come and go as timeless universals.

Having mapped out our thousand years of permanence and change, we then divided this into twenty sections, with children choosing a page to work on individually or in pairs, to create the content for the book.  

Thank you Weyfield Primary Academy for such a brilliant afternoon – the children were amazing. We can’t wait for next week’s workshop where we’ll put pen to paper and start writing some beautiful poetry for the book…

Fun in the sun with thirty fab young book creators from Weyfield Primary! 

We sat under the oaks at Newlands Corner, reflecting back on the natural world and history that’s woven through a thousand years, and reconnecting with our poetic toolkit of descriptive language and techniques to bring the trees to life.

Then the children put pen to paper as authors and poets for the day, crafting and sharing beautiful lines of tree poetry. It was so exciting to see the text for the book emerging, capturing the age of the trees, the permanence of the natural world, and the changes they have witnessed through a thousand years of time.  We were blown away by the poetry the children all created and everyone was buzzing as a collective book manuscript started to emerge!

Celebrating leaves! Learning to identify thirty native tree species with these budding botanists, exploring leaf shape and researching the journeys different trees have taken through time. Each child chose a native tree species, and learned all about its characteristics and form. 

We then read, for the first time, the completed text of the children’s combined book creation, sharing twenty pages of poetry as a single whole. 

But the book still needs an introduction, so we put our poetic thinking caps on again to write a lyrical opening for the text, as well as some top tips for how children everywhere can help to protect these magnificent trees for the future. 

Finally, we put coloured pens to paper, drafting some beautiful initial designs for the endpaper competition that launches on June 1st across Surrey! 

A fab afternoon at Weyfield Primary Academy starting to create the illustrations for the Thousand Year Tree picture book. 

The children explored different techniques for creating texture and depth, then worked their magic with a range of mediums, creating the elements of nature that will form the backdrop to the tree’s story. 

They created sunrises, skyscapes, leaves, branches, snow storms, moonlit skies, nesting birds, flower meadows, butterflies and bees, weaving a beautiful collage of colour and texture against which the tree’s story will unfold. 

Learning to work to an illustrator’s brief! The children set out today to illustrate the historical content of the book, working carefully on specific historical details and events to create the details for each specific page. 

Using paint pens and coloured pencils, they brought to life a thousand years of history from the Domesday Book, through the Magna Carta, Guy Fawkes, the Fire of London, the great plague, women’s votes, two world wars and on into the present day, thinking about how clothes, houses, vehicles have changed through different ages. 

We were so impressed by the work the children created, and can’t wait to bring this all together now, combining their beautiful words and pictures into a stunning finished book!