For centuries, the Sycamore Gap tree stood near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, where it had been growing in a large dip in the rolling landscape. But on Thursday morning, the beloved tree’s crown was discovered lying on one side of the wall, while its stump stood on the other.
Based on the appearance of the stump, officials say the perpetrator likely used a chainsaw. “We have reason to believe it has been deliberately felled,” according to a statement from the Northumberland National Park Authority.
Later in the day, police arrested a 16-year-old boy in connection with the incident. Officials say he is in police custody and “assisting officers with their inquiries,” according to the Associated Press.
When Jamie Driscoll, mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority, visited the site on Thursday, he was struck by how skillfully the cuts had been made. “It requires an awful lot of premeditation to do something like that,” he tells the New York Times’ Jenny Gross. “This is not just young, stupid drunk people keying someone’s car.”
The Sycamore Gap tree is one of the most photographed trees in the United Kingdom, reports the Guardian’s Robyn Vinter. It’s also known as “the Robin Hood Tree” because it appeared in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In 2016, the conservation charity Woodland Trust named it “English tree of the year.”
The tree meant so much to locals and tourists that it’s been the site of marriage proposals, picnics and many other happy moments; some have also had their ashes scattered there, as Driscoll writes on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
“It’s part of our collective soul,” he adds.
The tree is also a favorite subject of photographers, including Sophie Henderson, who lives in nearby County Durham. She recently captured the tree amid the glow of the northern lights. She even used the tree in the logo for her photography business.
“I know a lot of people will say, ‘It’s just a tree,’ but it’s so much more,” she tells the Times. “It makes me so angry and upset that somebody would do such a thing to something that’s so special to so many people.”
Still, authorities are urging onlookers to “let justice take its course,” as Kim McGuinness, the Northumbria police and crime commissioner, says in a statement, per the Northumberland Gazette’s Ian Smith.
“Sycamore Gap was a place of happy and moving memories for millions of people,” she adds.
The Roman army built Hadrian’s Wall after the emperor Hadrian visited Britain around 122 C.E. An estimated 15,000 men spent at least six years constructing the defensive fortification, which marked the Roman Empire’s northwest boundary.
The wall spans 73 miles—all the way across what is now northern England—and is made primarily of stone and turf. It’s dotted with observation towers and forts, which Roman soldiers used to keep an eye out for intruders.