When perpetrators used a chainsaw to cut down England’s beloved Sycamore Gap tree in September, the tree’s heavy crown and trunk tumbled atop Hadrian’s Wall. Now, experts have confirmed that the “deliberately felled” tree damaged the 1,900-year-old structure.
The solitary tree stood for centuries in a dip in the landscape near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Located in Northumberland National Park, it became a popular subject for photographers—and even appeared in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The conservation charity Woodland Trust also named it the “English tree of the year” in 2016.
But between the evening of September 27 and the morning of September 28, someone cut down the stately tree. Its crown was discovered lying on the opposite side of Hadrian’s Wall as its trunk. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, police arrested a 16-year-old boy. Later, they also arrested a man in his 60s and two men in their 30s.
#UPDATE We've made a further 2 arrests in connection with the vandalism of an iconic Northumberland tree.— Northumbria Police (@northumbriapol) November 1, 2023
A full investigation was launched after the Sycamore Gap Tree was felled overnight between September 27 & 28 in what we believe was a deliberate act of vandalism. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/nb1jtEc9t1
Last month, a preliminary study indicated that the wall had likely suffered some damage when the tree fell on top of it. In the weeks since, experts with Historic England, a government body that protects heritage sites, conducted a full archaeological appraisal of the site.
They announced their findings in a recent social media post: “[We] can confirm there are some cracks and fragments broken off from two of the facing stones, which we believe have been caused by the felling of the Sycamore tree,” they write.
The organization has also shared its findings with police and will now work with the National Trust, a conservation charity, to develop a repair plan for the wall. A scientific analysis of the felled tree, which will “help provide a firm age,” is also in progress. Historic England invited members of the public to offer up ideas for the “future of the tree,” per the post.
In mid-October, crews cut the massive tree into smaller pieces, then used a crane and a tractor with a trailer to haul it away. As Andrew Poad, a National Trust manager, told BBC News’ Duncan Leatherdale and Chris Robinson, the process felt like “the funeral or the wake” for the tree. At the same time, he added, “This is where we can start talking about the future.”
The pieces of the tree are being stored until officials determine what to do with them. They left the stump in place—protected by temporary fencing—and are hoping it will grow new shoots, reports NPR’s Bill Chappell. They also collected seeds, which may be used to grow saplings.
Built beginning in 122 C.E., Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification that indicated the northwest boundary of the Roman Empire. It took 15,000 men at least six years to construct the wall, which spans all the way across present-day northern England for 73 miles. It’s made of turf and stone and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.