The world-famous 1,000-year-old Major Oak tree in Sherwood Forest has been subject to ‘sacrilegious’ vandalism during lockdown, leaving Robin Hood devastated.
Weighing in at 23 tonnes with a spread of 93 feet, the Major Oak is the largest of its kind in Britain, but “sad and sick individuals” have caused a large 3-foot chunk of bark to fall off the tree.
The RSPB, which runs the site alongside Nottinghamshire County Council, also says fiberglass protection on the tree has also been damaged.
It says it believes the damage was caused by someone climbing on the tree despite access to it being prohibited for more than 40 years.
Signs have now been placed on the fence bordering the tree which state: “The Major Oak is social distancing.
“Large chunks have been broken off the tree during the pandemic. The fence is here for a reason. Please respect this giant by keeping your distance.”
The Major Oak, which is estimated to be between 800 and 1,000 years old, can be found within Sherwood Forest near the village of Edwinstowe.
Legend has it heroic outlaw Robin Hood and his merry men sought shelter underneath the famed pedunculate oak.
It has survived heavy snowstorms, raging winds and hundreds of years of deforestation, and in the 1970s it was fenced off after its roots began to suffer from the footsteps of thousands of people visiting every year.
In 1982, the hollow tree was even set on fire by vandals, and today it has again been damaged.
Nottinghamshire’s official Robin Hood, Ade Andrews, described the incident as “sacrilege”.
“I have got a long relationship with the city and Sherwood Forest as I used to be a heritage ranger for many years,” the self-proclaimed 800-year-old told Nottinghamshire Live.
“It is the world’s most famous tree and it is symbolic to Robin Hood. It is a symbol of England and a symbol of Nottingham.
“It is cultural vandalism. It is a sacred symbol of our city, it is in our literature and the oak trees built our country.
“People cannot see that we have got a relationship with the land, and if you damage the land you are damaging yourself.
“These areas are becoming more and more important. It is such a shame because Nottingham is such a great city.
“It has been going through a renaissance, but we have got all the issues with the Broadmarsh and now we have got this.
“There are some very sad individuals out there and they have got to be very sick.”
The Major Oak has taken years to grow due to very acidic soil.
Chains were attached to the tree for support in 1908 while the support beams holding up its sprawling branches were put up in the 1970s, before being reinforced with metal in the 2000s.
It was named in honour of Major Heyman Rooke in 1790, who wrote a book on the various oak trees of the area.
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Gemma Howarth, RSPB’s senior site manager at Sherwood, said she was dismayed to see the damage whilst doing a regular check of the site during lockdown.
“The Major Oak is a massively important part of our national heritage both in terms of our natural world and the Robin Hood legend which brings so many people to Sherwood from around the world,” she said.
“This is an area heavily reliant on tourism for our local and regional economy – the vast majority of people who visit the area want to come and see the Major Oak.
“We believe the damage was done accidentally during the lockdown period when the forest was quieter, probably by someone stepping on it to get inside, but no-one should have been near it in the first place.
“This fantastic tree isn’t something we can just regrow in our lifetimes, or even that of our grandchildren – it has survived a thousand years of history and as its custodians, we want it to be here for many more years to come.
“It’s heart-breaking to see it being damaged, especially at a time when nature had been helping so many people by providing interest and enjoyment during lockdown.
“We’d always urge anyone who sees any behaviour like this to get in touch immediately.”