Could the Sycamore Gap Tree rise again? Experts say Britain's most famous tree could begin to regrow in spring but warn it will take decades – as boy, 16, arrested over felling is released on bail

  • Post category:news
  • Reading time:18 min(s) read

  • Britain’s most famous tree had stood in a dip along Hadrian’s Wall for 300 years 
  • It was felled on Wednesday night with a chainsaw in ‘deliberate act of vandalism’

The Sycamore Gap tree could come back to life but will take decades to regrow, nature experts said, as police bailed a 16-year-old boy arrested over the felling.

Britain’s most famous tree had stood in a dip along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland for 300 years before it was chopped down on Wednesday night with a chainsaw.

The felling of the tree – which featured in 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – has sparked outrage, with authorities calling it a ‘deliberate act of vandalism’.

Northumbria Police arrested the teenager yesterday on suspicion of causing criminal damage. This morning, he was released on police bail pending further enquiries.

Now, nature experts claim that the Sycamore Gap stump could grow some new shoots next spring – although it would take decades to became a new tree.

The National Trust also said it might be possible to protect the stump so that the tree could regrow, and it is now looking into gathering the seeds. Environmentalists and MPs have condemned the loss, saying they feel ‘appalled’ and ‘saddened’.

Sycamore Gap in 2022
Sycamore Gap yesterday
Slide me

The Sycamore Gap tree is pictured in January 2022 (left) and chopped down yesterday (right)

The remains of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland yesterday

The remains of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland yesterday

An aerial view of the felled Sycamore Gap tree in the Northumberland National Park yesterday

An aerial view of the felled Sycamore Gap tree in the Northumberland National Park yesterday

Walkers and police gather to look at the Sycamore Gap tree next to Hadrian's Wall after it was felled yesterday

Walkers and police gather to look at the Sycamore Gap tree next to Hadrian’s Wall after it was felled yesterday

Jon Stokes, from conservation group The Tree Council, told Sky News: ‘It is very difficult to know if it will survive for sure, as I haven’t seen it in person, but it’s worth having hope.

Sycamore admired by hikers featured in Robin Hood film and Vera

Nestled in the dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall, the iconic sycamore tree is thought to have been planted around 300 years ago. 

It was originally part of a cluster of trees, but over time these were removed, leaving it to stand alone as an 118ft tall monument in the Northumberland landscape.

The sycamore became known as the Robin Hood Tree after it was featured in a famous scene in Kevin Costner’s 1991 blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. 

It has also appeared in the TV crime drama Vera and in local actor Robson Green’s documentary series More Tales from Northumberland.

The tree sits next to the Roman wall on a popular route for hikers close to Milecastle 39, known as Castle Nick, which since 1987 has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The gap is essentially a channel, naturally chipped away by vast amounts of meltwater flowing beneath the ice sheets that once covered the landscape during the Ice Age.

The area around the tree has been excavated twice, in 1908 and 1982, when archaeologist’s discovered a stone oven in the south-east corner and other Roman artefacts.

Although the name seems obvious, it is thought to have been coined by National Trust employee Lawrence Hewer. 

When asked by a team from Ordnance Survey who were visiting the area to review the maps what to call the spot, he quickly replied: ‘Sycamore Gap.’ 

In May 2003 the tree narrowly avoided being damaged when a helicopter filming a programme presented by gardener Alan Titchmarsh, The British Isles – A Natural History, crash landed 100ft away. 

Titchmarsh, who was on the ground, and the tree escaped unharmed, although four crew members were injured.

As well as being voted England’s Tree of the Year in 2016, the sycamore also came fifth in the European Tree of the Year awards the following year.

Its isolated spot makes it popular with star gazers and especially photographers keen to snap a picture of the tree lit up by the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

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‘At this time of year, trees begin to store energy in their roots for next year’s growing season – and it is possible that the tree may grow some new shoots next spring.

‘If they do appear, they will then take many decades to grow into a new tree – but there may be a chance. We won’t know for sure until next spring.’

Other environmentalists said the best way to remember the tree would be with the ‘gain of a forest’, given that the UK has Europe’s second lowest forest cover at about 13 per cent, compared to a 35 per cent average for the continent.

Robert Macfarlane, an environmental humanities professor at Cambridge University, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think our focus really shouldn’t be on the offender here. It’s on culture, it’s on us as it were. I would like to see relational thinking arise from this. This is one tree.

‘We have a tendency as a nation to be profoundly sentimental about our wildlife and our nature and much less good about affording it the protections that it needs.

‘So a couple of ideas – one is that we need greater protection for big, old, venerable standard trees.

‘The other thing is ,the best way to remember the loss of a tree, I would say, is with the gain of a forest. We are drastically deforested.

‘So let us reforest the uplands. Let us see natural afforestation take place in the region, in the North, let us see a Sycamore Gap forest rise from the loss of the tree.’

Speaking about the loss of the tree, he added: ‘It’s so grim. I felt sick – so many people did when they saw it, that clean wood. And we could see it was such a healthy tree when we could see all of it.

‘It was a film star – it starred in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It was a tree that ashes were scattered under, marriages were made under, it was a shelter for tired walkers.’

Mr Macfarlane told how the tree had ‘survived the winds that howl through that notch’ and stood in a wall that was a ‘symbol of repression’. 

He added: ‘It flourished there. It was a landmark in the region, it was a landmark in the world – it was known worldwide. It was a friend to many.’ 

Expressing his ‘deep shock’, National Trust general manager Andrew Poad told BBC Breakfast today: ‘Very healthy tree, we can see that now because of the condition of the stump. It may well regrow a coppice from the stump and if we could nurture that, then that might be one of the best outcomes and then we keep the tree.’ 

The National Trust jointly looks after the site with Northumberland National Park. 

Tristan Gooley, author of How To Read A Tree, said that the tree should continue to grow unless it was dying.

He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Unless poisoned or on its last legs anyway, most broadleaf trees that are cut down will sprout back up into multi-stemmed trees.’

The tree was made famous in Kevin Costner's 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

The tree was made famous in Kevin Costner’s 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

A tribute left to the fallen tree next to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland yesterday

A tribute left to the fallen tree next to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland yesterday

The stump of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland yesterday

The stump of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland yesterday

John Parker, chief executive at the Arboricultural Association, was less positive. He told Sky News that the traditional method of coppicing – where a tree is deliberately cut near to its base – is often used to manage trees.

READ MORE The most bizarre whodunnit gripping Britain: Theories swirl over just why world famous Sycamore Gap tree was chopped down in the middle of the night…as boy, 16, is quizzed by police

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But he added: ‘With a tree that old and a cut that big, the shock will probably kill what is left of the tree.

‘There is a chance you might get shoots at the bottom – but the tree will never be able to re-establish itself to the way it was before.’

Rob Ternent, head gardener at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, said the tree will start growing again but ‘won’t ever be the same shape or as good of a tree as it was’.

He added: ‘It’s worth a try but I think livestock and wildlife will potentially damage it as well. It’ll be very difficult to get it back to the original tree.

‘The growing season’s coming to an end now but by spring next year it will have some life in it. It’ll probably be about eight foot tall, but it’ll be lots of singular branches, more bushy.

‘It was about 300 years old so it’ll take a long time to get back to that size. It’s a massive shame.’

Gardener and broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh added: ‘It may well re-grow but it will most likely become multi-stemmed and not nearly so statuesque. It would really be better if a new one was planted, and carefully watched over.’

In 2003, the tree narrowly escaped damage when a helicopter filming a documentary series, presented by Titchmarsh, crash-landed less than 100ft away. The crew were injured but the tree and Titchmarsh, who was on the ground, were unharmed.

Newcastle United FC manager Eddie Howe also expressed his sadness during a press conference today. He said: ‘I’m really, really sad that I wasn’t able to get there before what happened. I was just so disappointed that an act can ruin something that’s there for the pleasure of everybody and it’s such a beautiful thing.’

Nature experts claim that the Sycamore Gap stump could grow some new shoots next spring

Nature experts claim that the Sycamore Gap stump could grow some new shoots next spring

However it will take decades for the shoots to grow into a new tree

However it will take decades for the shoots to grow into a new tree

A police cordon in front of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian's Wall yesterday

A police cordon in front of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian’s Wall yesterday

The sycamore was nicknamed Robin Hood’s Tree after it featured in the 1991 blockbuster film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

READ MORE Hairy Bikers join outpouring of grief for felled Sycamore Gap tree which became a setting for marriage proposals and childhood walks – but some social media users take the opportunity to post lighthearted memes about the beloved landmark

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Part of the Hadrian’s Wall Unesco world heritage site, it has drawn walkers and visitors from all over the globe. In 2016 it was named Tree of the Year by the Woodland Trust.

But yesterday morning, rangers discovered that the tree – which is thought to have been planted in the early 1700s – had been felled overnight.

Photographs showed the sycamore, which is in an isolated spot almost a mile from the nearest road, on its side with its trunk resting on the wall and surrounded by blue and white police tape. Spray paint could be seen just below the cut in the trunk. 

Mary Foy, Labour MP for Durham, said: ‘This is a heartbreaking act of mindless vandalism of a much loved, famous landmark in the North East.

‘A very sad day which will upset so many people around the country – and across the world.’

Si King, the TV cook and Hairy Biker, posted a video online accusing the ‘warped’ culprit of ‘murdering a sentinel of time and an elemental spirit of Northumberland’.

Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne mayor, said the perpetrator must be brought to justice, adding: ‘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.’

A spokesman for Northumberland National Park said: ‘Sadly, the famous tree at Sycamore Gap has come down overnight.

‘We have reason to believe it has been deliberately felled. We are working with the relevant agencies and partners with an interest in this iconic North East landmark.’

Officials warned against visiting the site, near Crag Lough, but yesterday walkers gathered to see the destruction for themselves. One woman laid a single pink rose close to the stump.

MPs and environmentalists, including Hairy Biker Si King, expressed their shock and sadness at the felling

MPs and environmentalists, including Hairy Biker Si King, expressed their shock and sadness at the felling 

King accused the 'warped' culprit of 'murdering a sentinel of time and an elemental spirit of Northumberland'.

King accused the ‘warped’ culprit of ‘murdering a sentinel of time and an elemental spirit of Northumberland’. 

Messages and stones left at the felled Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland yesterday

Messages and stones left at the felled Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland yesterday

Author Amanda Marks, from Otley, Suffolk, who is staying in the area while researching for a book, said the act ‘felt like murder’.

READ MORE Do YOU know who chopped down the Sycamore Gap Tree? Pub offers £1,500 free bar tab to anyone who can help crack the case – as National Trust boss suggests vandals ‘deliberately hacked down Robin Hood tree in half an hour in dead of night’

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She said: ‘There was a chap got there two minutes before we did from Northumberland National Park, and he was the first one to see it. And he was obviously straight on the phone saying, “no, this is sabotage”. So somebody’s come up there, with a chainsaw, at night.

‘Then people started coming and everybody’s aghast. You can’t believe it. Everybody sat there open-mouthed thinking “why? Who would do this?”‘ 

Matt Brown, 37, of the nearby Twice Brewed brewery, said the tree appeared to have been cut down ‘in an act of malice’ by someone who knew how to handle a large chainsaw.

‘It was quite a shock to see it lying there,’ he said. ‘That tree is a real icon. To those of us born in this area, it really means something.

‘It looks as though it has been cut through with one stroke, which means the blade must have been about two metres long.

‘It seems to be a thought-out and planned act. The tree can be seen from the old military road but to access it you have to climb over barbed wire and walk through marshy ground for a mile.

‘This is someone who knows how to fell trees and made sure it toppled in the right direction.’

Alison Hawkins, who lives in Liverpool, was one of the first people on the scene this morning, posting a picture on Facebook of the felled tree with the caption: ‘An awful moment for all walking Hadrian’s Wall, the Sycamore Gap tree has gone! Not the storm an absolute ******* felled it!!’

Ms Hawkins, who was on her fourth day of walking Hadrian’s Wall, said she was ‘tearful’ when she discovered the tree had been cut down.

Police officers and crime scene tape at the Sycamore Gap Tree near Hadrian's Wall yesterday

Police officers and crime scene tape at the Sycamore Gap Tree near Hadrian’s Wall yesterday 

Hikers look at the remains of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian's Wall yesterday

Hikers look at the remains of the tree at Sycamore Gap next to Hadrian’s Wall yesterday

The Sycamore Gap tree (pictured in 2021) is probably the most photographed in the UK

The Sycamore Gap tree (pictured in 2021) is probably the most photographed in the UK

She said: ‘At first we thought it was because of the storm but then we saw a national park ranger. He said it had been cut down and there was paint around the cut section, so it was a professional who knew where they were going to cut.’

READ MORE How beloved 18th Century Sycamore Gap tree was nearly destroyed in helicopter crash involving Alan Titchmarsh and almost chopped down in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

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‘It was a proper shock. It’s basically the iconic picture that everyone wants to see. You can forgive nature doing it but you can’t forgive that. 

‘We’ve carried on the walk but news is spreading so we’ve passed quite a few people asking us if it’s true.’

Mr Macfarlane said yesterday: ‘I just feel sick. I feel desperately sad about what it says about our wider relationship with trees and with nature in this country. And I feel very angry.’

He told BBC Radio 5 Live the tree was probably about 300 years old.

He added: ‘Just so many memories were stored in that tree and to see that white wood that a chainsaw ripped through at some point last night. I just despair really about the state of nature in this country.’

Jack Taylor, from Woodland Trust, told the programme: ‘If it’s been deliberately felled, as reports suggest, it’s totally unforgiveable.’

‘And, I’m really struggling to think of a reason why anybody would do that. Honestly, it would have to be a disturbed individual to do something that sort-of deliberate and heinous.’

Mr Taylor said: ‘We’re completely devastated that this has happened.’

Photographer Ian Sproat, 42, said he felt his ‘heart was ripped out’, adding: ‘They have destroyed a part of the North East. It’s like cutting down the Tyne Bridge.’

Since January the illegal felling of trees has been punishable with unlimited fines and prison terms

Since January the illegal felling of trees has been punishable with unlimited fines and prison terms 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to comment on 'that [incident] in particular'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to comment on ‘that [incident] in particular’

But he said the Government is 'absolutely committed' to protecting the UK's natural landscape

But he said the Government is ‘absolutely committed’ to protecting the UK’s natural landscape

Since January the illegal felling of trees has been punishable with unlimited fines and prison terms.

READ MORE ‘RIP Sycamore Gap tree’: Britons flood social media with memes making light of Hadrian’s Wall tree felling – while others can only express sincere remorse at ‘senseless’ act

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told ITV Tyne Tees and Border: ‘The police are currently investigating the incident, so it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on that one in particular.’

The Prime Minister added the Government is ‘absolutely committed’ to protecting the UK’s natural landscape.

Heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay 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 unfathomable that anyone would want to deny future generations the opportunity to have their lives enriched, as those of so many people from all over the world have been, by this breathtaking site.’

The news was also met with dismay and outrage by walkers’ groups on social media.

One Facebook user said: ‘I was sat crocheting at the top of the hill earlier this year while my husband and son were climbing up the rock face next to the tree. This is absolutely devastating news. It’s such a magical and magnificent place and tree. I can’t believe someone would deliberately chop this tree down.’

Another wrote on the national park authority’s Facebook page: ‘This is terrible news. I visit the tree regularly with my son.

‘I wonder if a tree sculptor could turn the felled tree into something to remember it in its place.’

Tim Wickens, trustee of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, said: ‘I’m truly tearful having just seen the images and reporting on the world famous tree at Sycamore gap on Hadrian’s wall apparently being deliberately felled last night.

‘If it transpires this was deliberate, it really is an outrageous and despicable act of vandalism that will shock people everywhere.

‘It is beyond belief that anyone would consciously seek to destroy such a timeless symbol of the North East’s natural beauty and an icon of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.

‘I would urge anyone with useful information to contact the police immediately to help them find those responsible for this awful crime.’

Superintendent Kevin Waring, of Northumbria Police, said: ‘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.

‘Any information – no matter how small or insignificant you think it may be – could prove absolutely crucial to our enquiries.’

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: ‘Northumbria Police have acted fast, showing their dedication to the region and now a 16-year-old male is in custody. This senseless crime has forever damaged an icon in the North East.

‘I think we all as a region feel shocked at what has happened. Sycamore Gap was a place of happy and moving memories for millions of people, and a symbol of home for people around the world.

‘It’s important now that we let justice take its course, and my thanks are with our hardworking police officers for their actions today.’

Last week four large sycamores were found to have been deliberately poisoned in protected woodland in Scotland, 125 miles from the Sycamore Gap.

The attack, in Teucheen Wood, in Inchinnan, north-west of Glasgow, came after a mysterious attacker also hacked at branches of other mature trees with a chainsaw in the same area a few months earlier. Both incidents were reported to Police Scotland.

Anyone with information on what happened to the Sycamore Gap is asked to contact police via the Tell Us Something page on the Northumbria Police website or by calling 101 quoting log NP-20230928-0295.




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