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Boy, 16, arrested amid anger after world-famous Sycamore Gap tree chopped down

Destruction of majestic, ancient tree prompted outpouring of anger and sorrow, from MPs, public and campaigners

Jane Dalton,Tara Cobham
Friday 29 September 2023 10:05 BST
Iconic ‘Sycamore Gap’ tree at Hadrian’s Wall chopped down in apparent act of vandalism
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A 16-year-old boy has been arrested after a world-famous, iconic tree was chopped down overnight in what police say was an act of deliberate vandalism.

The majestic Sycamore Gap tree, next to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, thought to be around 300 years old, was one of the most photographed trees in the UK. It was made famous by actor Kevin Costner when it appeared in his 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016 in the Woodland Trust’s awards.

The boy arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage in connection with felling the tree has now been released on bail “pending further enquiries”, Northumbria Police said on Friday.

Police stand beside the cordoned-off area, where the ‘Sycamore Gap’ tree on Hadrian’s Wall now lies on the ground (Getty Images)

Sycamore Gap’s destruction prompted an outpouring of anger and sorrow, from MPs, campaigners and the public alike.

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In a post retweeted by naturalist Chris Packham, the Woodland Trust wrote of their devastation at the “truly irreplaceable loss”. They said: “We are devastated by the news that the Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland – also known as the Robin Hood tree – has been felled. This is a truly irreplaceable loss.”

Dan Jarvis, Shadow Security Minister and Labour MP for Barnsley Central, described the tree’s felling as a “senseless act of vandalism”, writing: “Somebody, and I very much hope we will find out who... has cut down one of the most famous trees in the North, the tree at Sycamore Gap by Hadrian's Wall. A senseless act of vandalism.”

The Sycamore Gap tree, next to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, thought to be around 300 years old, was one of the most photographed trees in the UK (AFP/Getty)

Mark Jenkinson MP Conservative MP for Workington spoke of his sadness and disgust, writing: “Sycamore Gap is an iconic Northern landmark along Hadrians Wall, and one of the most famous trees in the UK which dated back to medieval times. I am both sad and disgusted by this.”

Mary Kelly Foy MP for City of Durham told of her heartbreak at this “act of mindless vandalism” that will be felt globally. She wrote: “This is a heartbreaking act of mindless vandalism of a much-loved, famous landmark in the North East. A very sad day for the iconic Sycamore Gap, which will upset so many people around the country - and even across the world.”

As police officers searched the area, Tony Gates, chief executive of the Northumberland National Park Authority, said staff and volunteers had been greatly saddened after the loss of an iconic landmark in the park and that many had special memories of the tree. He said they would work with the public and supporters to ensure that once again the area would come to hold special memories.

'Sycamore Gap' tree on Hadrian's Wall now lies on the ground, leaving behind only a stump in the spot it once proudly stood (Getty Images)

Friends of the Earth and the RSPB England both described the destruction as heartbreaking.

The National Trust said it was shocked and desperately saddened, adding: “We know just how much this iconic tree is loved locally, nationally and by everyone who has visited. We are working with our partners to understand what has happened and what can be done.”

Naturalist Dr Amy-Jane Beer wrote on social media: “This poor stump is a devastating metaphor for the State of Nature in UK. Heartbreaking. Disconnection is a disease. God help whoever did this.”

Environmentalist Ben Goldsmith wrote: “That someone would have destroyed this iconic tree is beyond comprehension; but what’s even more shocking is that this was pretty much the only tree in that *entire* landscape.”

The stars above Sycamore Gap, prior to the Perseid Meteor Shower above Hadrian's Wall near Bardon Mill, England, in August 2015 (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The closest pub to Sycamore Gap offered a £1,500 bar tab to anyone who provided information to Northumbria Police leading to an arrest, according to the Chronicle Live.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, said she was “incandescent” at what “looks like a deliberate act of vandalism”.

She said on Thursday: "I’m devastated that the famous Sycamore is gone. That tree was ours. It was an iconic North East landmark standing tall in our beautiful Northumberland.

“I am incandescent that this looks like a deliberate act of vandalism. I’ll be raising this personally today.

One of the UK’s most photographed trees, the Sycamore Gap tree stands along Hadrian's Wall near Hexham, northern England (AFP/Getty)

“I know Northumbria Police are at the scene and officers will do their utmost to catch whoever is behind this. Terrible news."

A spokesperson for the Northumberland National Park Authority added: “Sycamore Gap was and is much-loved by people from across the world.”

Northumberland County Council Leader Glen Sanderson said: “Today is a very sad day for our county. I am finding it difficult to express the shock, anger and hurt I feel at the destruction of this iconic landmark.”

People look at the tree at Sycamore Gap, next to Hadrian's Wall, in Northumberland after it came down overnight (PA)

Independent North of Tyne Mayor told of his indescribable anger at the “vandalism” of “our collective soul”. Alongside a photo of himself standing at the police cordon, he wrote on social media: “I can’t express how angry I am at the vandalism of the tree at Sycamore Gap.

“People have had their ashes scattered there. People have proposed there. I’ve picnicked there with my wife and kids. It’s part of our collective soul.

“We must bring whoever did this to justice.”

Sycamore Gap is looked after by both Northumberland National Park and the National Trust, and the tree stood in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall.

The destruction of Sycamore Gap has prompted an outpouring of anger and sorrow (PA)

Superintendent Kevin Waring, of Northumbria Police, said on Thursday: “This is a world-renowned landmark and the events of today have caused significant shock, sadness and anger throughout the local community and beyond.

“An investigation was immediately launched following this vandalism, and this afternoon we have arrested one suspect in connection with our enquiries.

“Given our investigation remains at a very early stage, we are keeping an open mind. I am appealing to the public for information to assist us – if you have seen or heard anything suspicious that may be of interest to us, please let us know.”

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