Beloved tree in England is felled in 'Act of Vandalism'

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Beloved tree in England is felled in 'Act of Vandalism'
The Sycamore Gap tree, near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, England, in December 2021. A 16-year-old boy was arrested Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, on suspicion of criminal damage after one of Britain’s most famous trees, a sycamore that stood in a dip in Hadrian’s Wall, was cut down overnight in what the authorities described as “an act of vandalism.” (Andy Haslam/The New York Times)

by Jenny Gross

LONDON.- A 16-year-old boy was arrested Thursday on suspicion of criminal damage after one of Britain’s most famous trees, a sycamore that stood in a dip in Hadrian’s Wall, was cut down overnight in what authorities described as “an act of vandalism.”

“We have reason to believe it has been deliberately felled,” Northumberland National Park said of the beloved tree, known as the Sycamore Gap tree, in a statement that was issued before the arrest.

The teenager was in custody and was assisting with the investigation, the Northumbria Police said Thursday.

Voted Tree of the Year in 2016 in the Woodland Trust awards, the Sycamore Gap tree, located about 100 miles southeast of Edinburgh, was several hundred years old and was featured in the 1991 film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

Sophie Henderson, a landscape photographer from nearby County Durham, burst into tears when she saw the news about the tree Thursday morning. “It’s devastating,” she said in an interview from the place where the tree had stood, where journalists, police officers and others gathered Thursday afternoon.

“I know a lot of people will say, ‘It’s just a tree,’ but it’s so much more,” she said. “It makes me so angry and upset that somebody would do such a thing to something that’s so special to so many people.” The view, without the tree, looked strange and sad, she said. Just a few weeks ago, she photographed the tree with the northern lights behind it, she said.

Police said in a statement Thursday that a full investigation had commenced to determine who was involved and that the person or people responsible would be brought to justice.

“The events of today have caused significant shock, sadness and anger throughout the local community and beyond,” Superintendent Kevin Waring of the Northumbria Police said in a statement. “An investigation was immediately launched following this vandalism, and this afternoon we have arrested one suspect in connection with our enquiries.” He added that the investigation was in its early stages.

Jamie Driscoll, mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, said the tree was part of the soul of people in the north of England. When he visited the fallen tree Thursday, he said he noticed that the cuts in the tree were perfect and appeared to have been made using a heavy-duty chain saw that was at least 28 inches long.

“It requires an awful lot of premeditation to do something like that,” Driscoll said. “This is not just young, stupid drunk people keying someone’s car.”

The tree stood along a dip in Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Roman army after emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in A.D. 122. The wall, which spans 73 miles, was the frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. More than 1 million people visit the wall each year, according to Northumberland National Park.

Ian Sproat, an electrician and amateur photographer who lives about 40 minutes by car from the tree, said he was “gobsmacked” when he heard that the tree had been chopped down and thought it was a hoax. When he arrived at the spot where the tree had stood Thursday morning and gathered with others, his anger turned to sadness, he said.

The tree was made famous globally by the Robin Hood movie, but for local people, he said, it was much more than that — it was a place for engagements, weddings or spreading ashes, or just somewhere to go for some peace and tranquility. A woman near him, who said generations of her family had visited the tree, was sobbing, with her head in her hands, he said.

Sproat recalled the nights he spent drinking coffee by the tree, photographing it under a dark sky, to clear his head.

“Anyone who wants to get away, you disappear in Northumberland,” he said, “and this is generally where people end up.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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