Britain's oldest tree could be dead in fifty years - because tourists keep ripping off its branches and keeping them as souvenirs, environmentalists have warned.
The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is thought to be between 3,000 - 5,000 years old - but has a life span now of just half a century, campaigners say.
The yew tree, which stands tall inside the Fortingall Churchyard in Perthshire, has been left in increasingly bad health because of tourists.
They are chopping the branches off to keep for themselves, according to reports.
Despite now being surrounded by a cage in the kirkyard, tourists visiting Fortingall have allegedly been taking cuttings from the ancient yew.
Catherine Lloyd, co-ordinator of the Tayside Biodiversity Community Partnership, said the tree has become stressed.
She said: "They are attacking this poor tree, it’s stressed, and whether that’s the reason this poor tree is not doing very well at the moment, we don’t know."
Neil Hooper, the tree warden for Fortingall, said they can’t tell how many visitors have vandalised the tree, but "certainly some needles, twigs, even bits of branches have been torn off".
He said a more common problem came from visitors climbing into the enclosure, via a listed wall, to tie beads and ribbons to the tree’s branches.
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Mr Hooper added: "Recently the metal plaque put up by the Tree Council has been forced down and twisted flat face down, which must have taken considerable force, also by someone climbing into the enclosure."
Now, in a bid to keep the original specimen alive, seedlings from the yew will be planted at various kirkyards in Perthshire and Angus, as well at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Catherine said: "The history that one tree has seen, it’s gobsmacking.
"I would love to look back into time.
"You look at it and think it’s been there for at least 3,000 years, 1,000 years before the Romans came across Scotland.
"But we know so little about it."