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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 20:28 GMT
Graveyard yew trees tackle cancer
Breast screening
Compounds from yew trees are used to make breast cancer drugs
Overgrown trees in a Northumberland churchyard have been cut down and are being used to help cure cancer.

Taxus baccata and taxol are compounds found in yew trees which can slow down or kill cancer cells and are used in chemotherapy treatments.

Castle Morpeth Borough Council came up with the idea of donating yew trees from St Mary's Church to scientists.

Now the trees will be trimmed every year and the cuttings sent to be processed and turned into cancer drugs.

The council's green spaces strategy manager, Colin Marlee, and local nature reserves ranger, Sam Talbot, are co-ordinating the project.

Mr Marlee said: "Once we heard about the yew trees at St Mary's being cut back we suggested collecting all future cuttings to be sent off for use in drugs such as docetaxel and taxotere.

Hard work

"We plan to talk to the diocese with a view to extending the scheme to all churchyards where there are yews that need trimming."

The 3,500 clean-up was led by Morpeth Pride with work carried out by the council's green and clean unit.

The 900-year-old church is home to the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who was killed by the King's horse at Epsom on Derby Day, 1913, during a protest.

The Rev Robert McLean, rector of St Mary's, said: "You can see the parish church in all its glory from the main road for the first time in years. "

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