A 16-year-old boy was arrested on Thursday after one of Britain’s most photographed trees was found felled next to the Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage site in northeast England, prompting outrage and grief.
The Sycamore Gap tree, which has stood for more than 200 years in the Northumberland National Park, was found fallen after overnight storms.
Its stump was seen with white paint marks and appeared cleanly cut, as if by a chainsaw, AFP reporters at the scene said.
The crown of the tree lay partly on the ancient Roman fortification, which stretches 73 miles (118 kilometres) from coast to coast.
The sycamore became internationally famous when it was used for a scene in the 1991 blockbuster film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, starring Kevin Costner.
Northumbria Police, which is probing the incident, said that the teenager was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.
Superintendent Kevin Waring said “the events of today have caused significant shock, sadness and anger throughout the local community and beyond”.
“Given our investigation remains at a very early stage, we are keeping an open mind,” he added.
The sycamore, which won the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year in 2016, is a key attraction that has been photographed by millions of visitors over the years.
– ‘Deliberately felled’ –
Tony Gates, chief executive of the Northumberland National Park Authority which manages the surrounding countryside, said it appeared the tree had been “deliberately felled”.
“It’s really sad that someone has taken it upon themselves to do what is really a terrible act of vandalism,” he told AFP at the scene.
“We’re not able at this stage to speculate on (by) who, or why this has taken place.”
Gates said he and volunteers at the national park felt “a real sense of loss” and that many people had been in tears at the news, which prompted a flood of social media messages expressing shock.
“This will have meant a lot to people. People will have been proposed to here, they will have held significant family occasions here,” he added. “Some people may have scattered the ashes of loved ones here. For someone to feel that they can do this to such a site, I just find really hard to comprehend.”
Hadrian’s Wall is an international landmark. Begun in 122 AD during the reign of emperor Hadrian, it marked the boundary between Roman Britannia and unconquered Caledonia to the north.
Thousands of soldiers and many of their families lived along the wall, leaving behind structures and items that have given archaeologists a deep insight into Roman life in the windswept northern limits of their empire.
Visitors had been told to stay away from the site, which was cordoned off with blue and white police tape.
Walkers on the popular cross-country route expressed disbelief at the loss of the photogenic landmark, which had become a symbol of the region.
“Sycamore Gap was a place of happy and moving memories for millions of people, and a symbol of home for people around the world,” said Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, calling it a “senseless crime”.
The chief executive of the Arboricultural Association, John Parker, told The Times the outpouring of shock and anger was a reminder of the cultural importance of trees to people.
But Jack Taylor, a campaigner with the Woodland Trust, said many ancient species had no legal protection.