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England's beloved Sycamore Gap tree will be removed from Hadrian's Wall

The massive trunk and crown of the Sycamore Gap tree will be moved from the spot where it fell along Hadrian's Wall in England's north east. Police have made two arrests in the felling of the historic tree.
Jeff J Mitchell
/
Getty Images
The massive trunk and crown of the Sycamore Gap tree will be moved from the spot where it fell along Hadrian's Wall in England's north east. Police have made two arrests in the felling of the historic tree.

Workers are beginning the process of removing the famous Sycamore Gap tree trunk and crown from Hadrian's Wall, which was felled in late September in a shocking act of vandalism in northern England. The tree's stump will remain.

"The 50-foot tree, which had stood in the historic landscape for nearly 200 years, will be carefully moved" and stored, the U.K.'s National Trust told NPR.

Officials say they're amazed and heartened by the public's concern for the well-loved tree. Thousands of tributes, suggestions and donations have come in from around the U.K. and beyond, they say, in hopes of preserving the tree. Options range from regrowth or grafting — or starting over from a new seed.

The tree must be cut again to move it

The tree's trunk has been resting precariously on an even older monument: Hadrian's Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that marks the former frontier of the Roman Empire.

Cranes will soon be used to lift the massive tree away — a task that will preserve the 1,900-year-old wall and also remove a potential hazard to visitors. Plans to move it have been complicated by the need to take its historic setting into account, as well as its size.

For years, many visitors to Hadrian's Wall, near the border between England and Scotland, flocked to the Sycamore Gap tree.
Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
For years, many visitors to Hadrian's Wall, near the border between England and Scotland, flocked to the Sycamore Gap tree.

Experts determined that it can't be lifted intact, meaning the trunk will have to be cut again. The National Trust says it will keep the sections as large as possible, "to give us flexibility on what the tree becomes in future."

News that the tree had been cut down set off waves of sadness and outrage. Police in Northumbria have arrested two people: a 16-year-old boy and a man in his 60s. Officers were seen carrying a large chainsaw away from the home of the older man, who is reportedly a former lumberjack.

The stump could sprout new shoots

The beloved sycamore dates to the age before electricity, but it had more juice on Instagram than most humans. Often, it was photographed on its own, a solitary and surprising thrust of beauty in the middle of a rocky landscape. It added a dose of green to countless photos of vacations, engagements and picnics.

"It's clear that this tree captured the imaginations of so many people who visited, and that it held a special – and often poignant – place in many people's hearts," said Andrew Poad, the site's general manager for the National Trust, which owns the land where the tree stood.

In 1991, the venerable sycamore even starred in Kevin Costner's film, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. But anyone visiting the site now would find a temporary fence around the tree's stump, to protect it in case the old tree can generate new shoots.

"Regrowth from the original tree stump should be possible but it's too early to tell," as Jeannette Heard of the National Trust told NPR.

Even if that happens, she added, the tree's dramatic effect wouldn't be the same, as multiple stems would emerge rather than one.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.