Sycamore Gap Tree: iconic downed tree may be able to live on through its shoots - but it 'won’t be the same'

"Coppicing" is a technique that allows new shoots to grow from the base of a tree trunk
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Experts have hope the famed Sycamore Gap tree, destroyed in what is believed to be an act of vandalism, may be able to live on through its shoots.

Northumbria Police began investigating after pictures emerged on Thursday morning (28 September) of the famed tree lying on its side, with spokespeople from both the force and the Northumberland National Park Authority saying it was believed to have been deliberately felled.

A 16-year-old boy has since been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, but has been bailed while enquiries continue.

On Friday Andrew Poad, general manager of the National Trust - which looks after the tree alongside the National Park Authority - told the BBC initial examinations showed the sycamore's stump appeared to be "healthy" and in good condition.

Forensic investigators from Northumbria Police examine the felled Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire)Forensic investigators from Northumbria Police examine the felled Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire)
Forensic investigators from Northumbria Police examine the felled Sycamore Gap tree, on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire)

Staff may be able to "coppice" the tree, a technique that allows new shoots to grow from the base of a tree's trunk, he added.

“It’s a 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.”

However, Rob Ternent, head gardener at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, told PA while the tree might start growing again - it “won’t ever be the same shape or as good of a tree as it was”.

“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." He estimated the tree may be able to grow to about eight feet 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," Mr Ternent added.

The Sycamore gap tree sat alongside Hadrian's Wall, in a dramatic dip between two hills, and was featured in key scenes in Kevin Costner's 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves - as well as being one of the most photographed trees in the UK.

In 2020, it was voted England's Tree of the Year, in the Woodland Trust's annual competition.

What is coppicing?

According to the National Trust, coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique dating all the way back to the Stone Age - when it was used to ensure a steady supply of firewood.

It usually involves felling trees near their base to create a "stool" - a stump where new shoots will grow from buds hidden beneath its bark, which are alive but not actively growing. Recently coppiced trees often have many thin trunks, or a number of "poles" at their base.

While most native tree species can be coppiced, the Trust says it works best with hazel, sweet chestnut, ash and lime trees.

However, it warns that in the first year or two after a tree is coppiced, the young, tender shoots are vulnerable to being eaten by herbivores, so they need to be protected.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.