Rare oak blaze was ‘deliberate’

A 800-year-old oak tree has been set on fire on Aspal Close Nature Reserve''Pictured: Matt Vernon (FHDC's Countryside & Open Spaces Officer) with the burnt tree and Thyes Hayes (volunteer)
A 800-year-old oak tree has been set on fire on Aspal Close Nature Reserve''Pictured: Matt Vernon (FHDC's Countryside & Open Spaces Officer) with the burnt tree and Thyes Hayes (volunteer)
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A FIRE that severely damaged an 800-year-old oak tree could not have been an accident, according to a council officer.

Officers and volunteers were left reeling after a valuable veteran oak tree was found ablaze at Aspal Close Nature Reserve, in Beck Row.

Matt Vernon, Forest Heath District Council’s countryside and open spaces officer, said the fire could not have been an accident.

“We can rule out an accident because of the extent of the fire – it was deliberate.

“The fire was started in the hollow of the tree and whether or not they meant to burn the tree down doesn’t matter, it’s still criminal,” he said.

The incident, on February 25, was the fifth of its kind in the last few years, according to Mr Vernon, and none of the other trees with similar damage had survived.

He said: “It could have gone on for another 100 or 200 years if it was managed properly.

“We have just finished a survey of the trees which cost a lot of time and money to plan their management for the next 50 years.

“A lot of volunteers from the local area have been involved and the worst thing is that their hard work on this tree will go to waste.”

There are 200 examples of the oak in the reserve but it is the only site in Breckland which contains the rare tree.

Mr Vernon said: “There are not a huge amount of them around in the country but what makes ours unique within Breckland is that the dry, sandy soil means they usually don’t grow.”

Forest Heath district councillor Tony Simmons said: “It is heartbreaking to see such a wonderful and ancient tree damaged in such a thoughtless way.

“The local volunteers have worked so hard to help look after these trees, it is a great shame to see their efforts undermined by the callous actions of a few individuals.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Police said they had yet to receive an official crime report in relation to the incident but have urged anyone with information to contact them on 101.