There is worldwide dismay at the felling of a treasured tree; the world-renowned and iconic Sycamore Gap Tree in Northumberland which won the public vote to be crowned Tree of the Year in 2016 by the Woodland Trust. The charity described it as “one of the most photographed trees in the UK”. The reason for chain sawing the tree is a complete mystery at this time.
It’s celebrity extended far wider than the UK. That’s because there were so many photographs taken of it, published on the Internet. It was made more famous when it was featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner.
It stood in a large dip in Northumberland National Park. It’s was located right next to Hadrian’s Wall. It was chain sawed down allegedly by a 16-year-old boy who’s been arrested. We have no idea why the person who did this felled this beautiful tree. It is a terrible wanton act of destruction which has hurt millions of people worldwide. Update: a man in his 60s has been arrested. The 16-year-old is on bail. He is not on remand in a police cell.
The news spread yesterday morning apparently. Many people thought that the tree had been blown over by strong winds on Wednesday evening. But then they noticed it had been chain sawed down.
The tree was an emblem of the North-East of England.
It has clearly been chain sawed down and apparently there was white spray paint around the area where it had been cut. The tree fell onto Hadrian’s Wall.
The tree sat along a popular route for hikers between Milecastle 39, known as Castle Nick, and Crag Lough. It was part of a UNESCO world Heritage site.
A photographer, Ian Sproat, said: “Whoever has done it hasn’t realised how much of an impact to the north-east [this has had]. It’s the heart of the north-east, it’s where people come to get peace, you can sit hours and just watch the stars. It’s where Northumberland lives and breathes.”
He went to the site and when he was there initially there were two or three people but by lunchtime there were 20-30 people. He added that: “There were people sitting on the rocks crying, people hugging. It’s been horrendous.”
Officials asked people to stay away but they came anyway and they left painted rocks and pieces of slate in tribute. One said: “Always in my thoughts. Forever in my heart”. Another one said: “Miss you 4ver”.
An American, Nigel Holman, 60, had arrived at the site from New Mexico. He was on a walking holiday in the UK. He wanted specifically to see this tree and was staying with his wife at a bed and breakfast nearby. The tree was visible from his bedroom window.
He said: “Our hosts brought us breakfast to our room and said the tree had fallen. It was very windy here last night so we were lamenting the fact that the wind had taken the tree. I am devastated by this act of vandalism. It’s destroyed something millions of people have seen, admired and appreciated. It fits so perfectly into that space and even if it hadn’t been part of a Hollywood movie it would still be iconic.”
Andrea Daniels, 53, was part of a group of 20 people walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path as part of a charity walk and she believed that she was the last person with her group colleagues to see the tree alive and standing.
It is believed that it was chain sawed down professionally. It would have required skill and equipment according to Mike Pratt, chief executive of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
It is believed it was felled during the night. The general manager of the National Trust for Hadrian’s Wall said that he believed it would have taken about half an hour to chop down. He also believes that this wasn’t a spontaneous act. It took some planning.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Heritage Minister, said: “Like everyone across the north-east, and far beyond, I am heartbroken at the loss of this iconic part of our nation’s heritage. It is unpardonable that anyone would want to deny future generations the opportunity to have their lives enriched by this breathtaking sight.”
Personally, I am in despair at reading this story. It seems to me to point to a broken Britain. A Britain that has lost touch with nature and the good things in life. As the Minister said it is unfathomable. There is no possible reason for it except a horribly destructive mentality. A nihilistic mentality. It’s just horrible and so terribly sad. I can hardly believe it.
Since the shocking news, journalists have commented on this dramatic act of vandalism. Helen Rumbelow comments in The Times on Saturday, September 30, 2023. She makes some good points which I would like to mention here.
The point she strongly makes is that humans are hypocritical about this tree being cut down. She mentions that where this solitary tree was standing, there were many others at one time. They were cut down for any number of reasons and at that time nobody made a lot of noise.
And we buy products such as beef in our supermarkets from South America where the cattle are on farms that were once the Amazon jungle. Many trees were burned or cut down to accommodate these farms. We don’t do enough about that. We keep on buying the food.
And she says that, “The UK regularly tops the European leagues of countries with the most pets per household. We love playing with a tame bit of nature in the home. We can put a bow on it and teach it to beg. We smugly consider our veneration of trees and animals part of our national identity.”
And she says that we made this tree a pet. She claims that we like to make nature a pet.
But she says that Britain is nature depleted because we don’t care enough. There you can see the hypocrisy. We like pets on our terms and we like to make animals pets and trees pets but we don’t have enough concern for wildlife. I have made this statement before. Cat owners keep their cats indoors for their peace of mind. It’s a human-centric decision. It is not primarily about protecting wildlife or even their cat.
And on another site, I mentioned recently that there is a general decline in the number of native species in the UK. There is continuing pressure on their existence. And, I believe, that it will become worse.
Rumbelow mentions the State of Nature report which I refer to in the other article. It ranks this country has one of the worst in terms of nature. And since 1970 she says that, “while species have declined by 19%, and continue to be in freefall. Less than half of our remaining woodland is sustainably managed.”
And, she’s right when she says that we have got used to a bare landscape. A landscape without trees. Think of the UK about a thousand or more years ago. Perhaps 5000 years ago when it was covered in trees. Think of Scotland. Now we see bare hills and mountains. Thousands of years ago they were covered in trees. They’ve all gone. All been chopped down by humans for commercial gain of some sort.
And take the naked hills of the Lake District. They too were covered in trees at one time. Once you remove the trees from a landscape the ground becomes eroded and they can no longer grow again. Or the ground is “sheep-wrecked” to use the words of Rumbelow.
So, “The beauty of the sycamore and Sycamore Gap came from a dark place that we should admit to ourselves.”
In a further update, the National Trust collected seeds from the site in the hope of regrowing the tree. It is believed that the tree was 300 years old. The seeds would be genetically the same as the tree that was cut down but will it grow to the same shape? My point would be this: are we to wait 300 years to see it again? Isn’t there a better solution? Do we have the ability to relocate a proper tree to this site or is that entirely impossible?
There is also talk that the felling of this tree may affect businesses in the area because, as mentioned, many people went to the area because of the tree. It was a tourist attraction. For example, Sue Humphreys, manager of Herding Hill Farms campsite who uses the tree on its logo, said that many visitors to their site were there to see the tree. And many guests arrived from abroad. The tree was that famous.
The artist, Sir Antony Gormley, who created the north-east’s Angel of the North a massive statue which is visible from the main road, has been asked by some to create something for the gap. But he thinks, rightly in my view, that the tree should not be replaced with an inanimate sculpture but with another tree.
A social media poll was run to find out what to do next. Interestingly, 40% of the votes suggested that we let nature regrow the tree from the stump. That’s amazing but the tree will not look anything like the tree that was cut down but that would create a continuity which is very nice. Trying to plant a mature replacement tree garnered 20% of the votes. That would be my suggestion. And secondly, there have been suggestions that the wood from the tree be used to create a piece of art to be erected along the trail used by many hikers for their benefit and as a sensitive reminder of the sycamore tree that was so brutally felled.
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