Mistle Thrush - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

There’s a loud ‘Zeeeeee’ call from the top of the Yew trees in the churchyard opposite my house. I say churchyard but the church has turned it into a commercial car park with spaces to rent at extortionate prices and automated bollards to keep the riff-raff out.

There’s a flock of Mistle Thrushes working the trees and gobbling berries. They’re throwing Yew berries down their gullets like me at Christmas with a tub of Celebrations. It’s a good job they have such incredibly strong acid in their stomachs and a muscular gizzard otherwise they’d have a serious stomach ache.

Yew trees are poisonous. The wood is poisonous, the branches are poisonous, the leaves are poisonous, the seeds are poisonous. Did I say they were poisonous? The only thing that isn’t poisonous is the red aril, the soft red part that surrounds the seed. The seed that’s inside it? Deadly. I heard a story about a family who suspected that their child had eaten a Yew berry who phoned NHS Direct (the precursor of NHS 111). They said “We think our child has eaten a Yew berry.” The response came back, “Is the child dead?” After an uncomprehending “No,” came the response, “Well they haven’t eaten a Yew berry then.”

Mistle Thrushes don’t seem to take the deadly poisonous nature of Yew berries too seriously though. Given their name they probably eat Mistletoe berries as well. And Mistletoe? Poisonous.

If you do have a Yew hedge (rather than a Yew tree) then there was a firm which would collect the clippings to make into the chemotherapy drug Taxotere. Taxotere is used in the treatment of breast cancer, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, prostate cancer and stomach cancer. It’s the perfect example of kill or cure.

Mistle Thrush - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Mistle Thrushes. If you have a new admiration for their stomachs, my job is done.

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