The clippings of a 300-year-old, 150ft yew hedge can save the lives of cancer patients

The green giant is on the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester and its clippings are sold to pharmaceutical firms as a key ingredient of docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug

It's 33ft wide, 150ft long and 40ft tall, but the massive yew hedge at the Bathurst Estate in the Cotswolds is more than just a 300-year-old horticultural wonder, it's a life-saving tree.

This week, as they do every August, two gardeners – Tim Day, who has trimmed the hedge every year since 1974, and John Rutterford – are working flat-out to lop up to one ton of clippings off the green giant. It should take them 10 days to complete the job at the Cirencester estate, at the cost of £5,000 to the 9th Earl Bathurst.

Once the job is done, the chainsaws are packed away and the cherry-picker gone, the vast bags of clippings won't end up in landfill or a giant compost bin, rather they will be trucked off to the Continent to become the life-saving cancer drug docetaxel.

"I'm afraid to say I don't know a great deal about what happens to it," Lord Bathurst tells me. "I know that a very good friend of mine was once treated with it, but Friendship Estates, which takes it away, is rather secretive as to where it ends up. It's wonderful to know that it's going to a worthy cause, though."

It's certainty not a profit-making enterprise, adds Lord Bathurst, whose forebears have cared for the hedge at their family seat of Cirencester Park for more than nine generations. "They pay us 35 pence a kilogram to take it away, which means, with the cost of trimming the thing, we actually make a substantial loss. Not that I'm complaining, as we don't have to touch the thing for the rest of the year, other than knocking off some snow in winter. Otherwise, it just looks after itself."

The volume of off-cuts from Lord Bathurst's hedge might seem vast, but it is only a tiny fraction of the several hundred tons collected between July and September each year by a small number of specialist firms.

These clippings are then sold to pharmaceutical firms, which use an active extract in the yew as a key ingredient of docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug used to treat various forms of cancer.

"We collect more than 100 tons of clipping each year," explains Matthew Cooke, from Friendships Estates Limited, who is setting off to the Bathurst Estate from his Yorkshire base today. "We travel all over the country and are always looking for new yew hedge. A healthy one should provide about one to four kilos of clippings per metre per year."

Cooke is a little more vague about where the precious green stuff goes after he collects it, though: "We have competitors out there in the south of England and Belgium, so I wouldn't want to admit exactly where it goes, except to say that we ship to a company in Europe that extracts the active ingredients and then moves it on to the drug producers."

It's not clear which producer Lord Bathurst's clippings end up with, but a spokesman for Sonofi, one of the biggest docetaxel producers, confirmed that while the drug was traditionally sourced from the bark of Pacific yew trees, it is now produced from the clippings of Europe's hedgerows.

According to John Newlands, a cancer information nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, the drug is used in chemotherapy to treat breast, lung, head and neck, prostate and stomach cancers. "Typically a patient would take one treatment every week for six to eight weeks," he explains. "For breast cancer, for example, it would often be used after surgery as a preventative measure to combat cancer cells that may remain elsewhere in the body."

Docetaxel is not the only cancer drug making use of the yew tree. A drug called paclitaxel uses bark from the Pacific and Himalayan varieties. Paclitaxel is also from the taxane family, which works by interfering with cell division and by the blocking of cell growth.

However, rising cancer rates – along with a demand for firewood – have meant that the yew tree has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature endangered list in Afghanistan, India and Nepal.

There is no such worry in Cirencester, though, says Lord Bathurst. "There's a yew tree in Wales that they think was 3,000 years old when Christ was born and that's still there, so I think we're quite safe here."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

    Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

    Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

    £25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?