AN ANCIENT tree may not survive after it was badly damaged by vandals who tried to set fire to it.
The towering beech tree has stood in Burgh Wood, Hurst Green, for 300 years, and is a well-recognised local landmark.
But on Sunday (May 29) morning, some burning logs were left pushed against the tree, causing considerable damage.
It is believed a dog walker saw two teenagers running away from the tree at 5am, but didn’t try to remove the burning logs.
Several hours later, at 10.30am, another dog walker spotted the logs and used a large stick to pull them away from the by then burnt, and very hot, tree.
Five nearby residents spent the next few hours putting water on the tree, which was noticeably scorched, and keeping watch to ensure it didn’t flare up again.
Don Nicholls, of Burgh Hill, said: “I arrived at noon, people had been there since 10.30am, and that tree was still extremely hot, as was the ground.
“The tree was extremely hot and smoke seemed to be coming from it, so we put as much water on it as possible to try and douse it.”
The tree, which has a girth of 591 cms, was registered with The Woodland Trust on December 18, 2008.
The owner of the woodland said the tree was “unlikely” to survive the damage.
Mr Nicholls said: “There are about three ancient beech trees in Burgh Wood, Hurst Green, that have been standing there for hundreds of years and they are local landmarks. I do not know if that tree will survive.”
Mr Nicholls says a group of around 15 young people were seen on the site shortly before the fire was discovered and is asking police to investigate.
He said there have been a number of incidents of groups camping in the area in recent weeks.
Mr Nicholls said: “There have been people camping by the tree and they are always leaving broken glass and cans, which we have not been happy with.
“But no one has ever done anything as stupid as this before.”
The incident came just days after Battle firefighters warned of the dangers of campfires which had not been properly extinguished.
In last week’s Observer, crews advised against building campfires in woodland, following a spate of fires in the area.
Small fires had broken out at Battle Great Wood and in woodland near Ashburnham after campfires were not put out properly.
With warm, dry weather expected this weekend, fire crews fear there may be more incidents and have repeated their warning to the public to avoid lighting campfires in woodland.