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Vandalism fells centuries-old tree in U.K.

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: February 2024

The untimely demise of the historic and beautiful Sycamore Gap tree.

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On the morning of September 28, 2023, employees of the Northumberland National Park Authority in the United Kingdom discovered a crime scene.

During the previous night, someone “deliberately felled” one of the nation’s most popular and famous trees in what authorities described as an “act of vandalism.”

The sycamore tree, planted around 1860 to 1890, was planted by a former landowner in a dramatic dip in the countryside known as the Sycamore Gap beside the historic Hadrian’s Wall. It was approximately 15 metres (50 feet) tall and had a trunk diameter of roughly 90 centimetres (about three feet).

The tree is most famous for its appearance in a 1991 film about Robin Hood, and was named English Tree of the Year in 2016. It’s also been recognized as one of the most photographed trees in the nation.

“The vandalism has caused understandable shock and anger throughout the local community and beyond,” a statement from Northumbria Police said. Images of the felled tree lying atop the stone wall on the morning of Sept. 28 spread around the globe.

A 16-year-old and a man in his 60s have been arrested as part of the investigation.

Work to clean up the site began in early October, but the tree was so large it couldn’t be moved in one piece. The park authority said it aimed to keep the trunk in as large sections as possible to give them flexibility for what the tree will become in the future.

A web page has even been established to update the public on the process, and to provide more history and context for the tree.

This brazen and unprovoked act of vandalism saddened me and turned what was a pretty good day (Sept. 28 is my birthday) into one tinged with sadness. What would provoke someone to cut down a historic tree of this magnitude?

I’m a woodworker and make things out of wood from trees that are cut down every day. But I also studied history and geography in university before working for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and stories of old, beautiful trees being cut down like this make my blood boil.

It’s one thing to cut down trees that have been grown and man­aged for the purpose of making lumber or wood for furniture, but it’s another to recklessly kill a centuries-old landmark for no appar­ent purpose. My father and I cut down old trees on the farm or other nearby land and use the wood for our woodworking projects, but the trees are usually dying from infection or bug infestation, were knocked down in a storm, or were slated for removal as part of a land redevelopment project or road widening.

One of my earliest memories I have from the family farm grow­ing up is learning to climb the silver maple trees with my sister, and one of the last things I did with my dad at the farm before it was sold 25 years ago was build a treehouse.

And one of my favourite movies as a kid was “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” which featured the tree.

My only hope now is that they can find a wood­worker with the appropriate vision and skills to take what remains of the tree and turn it into a project worthy of its history and reputation.


James Jackson - [email protected]

James is a woodworker, a freelance writer, a former newspaper reporter and father to two amazing girls.

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