Why did the Hadrian’s Wall tree mean so much to us?

Teenager arrested after Sycamore Gap tree felled overnight

Hadrian's Wall tree
The world-famous tree featured in 1991 film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"
(Image credit: Michael Conrad - Getty Images)

The felling of the Sycamore Gap tree on Hadrian's Wall in an apparent act of vandalism has caused widespread outrage and dismay. 

The 300-year-old sycamore was known worldwide after featuring in the 1991 film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", and was "visited by tens of thousands of walkers" in Northumberland each year, said The Telegraph. But visitors found the tree lying on the ground on Thursday, after "someone took a chainsaw to its trunk". 

Northumbria Police announced hours later that a 16-year-old boy had been arrested and was assisting officers with their inquiries.

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The National Trust, which owns the land, has raised hopes that the Sycamore Gap tree could be regrown from its stump. "If we could nurture that then that might be one of the best outcomes, and then we keep the tree," the charity's general manager Andrew Poad told the BBC

But experts warned that the tree would "never be the same again", the broadcaster reported.

‘In mourning’

The Northeast is in "mourning for the loss of one of its icons", said The Northern Echo. As recognisable as the Angel of the North or the Tyne Bridge, it was part of our national identity. While the Angel could conceivably be recast, the sycamore is now "utterly gone", not just for us, but for future generations too.

 More than being just part of the landscape, the tree was "part of our history, part of our culture," said Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham. "Even if police do catch the perpetrator, the tree is still gone".

It formed the backdrop to key moments of many people's lives, said The New York Times: a "place for engagements, weddings or spreading ashes, or just somewhere to go for some peace and tranquillity". 

It's a "personal tragedy", lamented Terry Deary, the Sunderland-born author. "In this world of wars, poverty and plague, the destruction of a tree is not that significant, but I do feel a personal hurt."

'A wider attack on nature'

It's not just locals who feel a deep sense of sadness and loss, said Daniel Rey in The Spectator. The tree was "globally renowned" and helped draw tourists to Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland National Park.

Some have argued that as well as being devastating for tourism, the tree's felling symbolises a wider attack on nature in the UK. This is about the "culture" of this country, writer and poet Robert Macfarlane told The Guardian. "Nature is under attack in these islands and has been for a long time."

Britain's natural heritage is under threat from more than just "ecocidal vandals", agreed Rey. The day before the tree fell, the newly published 2023 State of Nature report revealed that one out of every six British species is at risk of extinction. 

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has postponed the ban on buying new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, as well as downsizing targets on sustainable heating and insulation. 

It's hard to believe the government when it says it's "absolutely committed" to protecting Britain's heritage, said Rey. "The gradual consequences of a hotter planet may be harder to appreciate than the effect of a chainsaw, but they will still be severe."

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