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Our response to the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree

A tree seedling growing in a plant pot
A seedling from the Sycamore Gap tree growing at the Plant Conservation Centre | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

For nearly 200 years, the iconic Sycamore Gap tree was an unmistakable landmark at Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort. We were shocked and saddened when it was felled on 27 September 2023. We’re now working to create a lasting legacy for the tree.

New beginnings

We're currently looking after the seeds and cuttings that were taken from the felled tree at our Plant Conservation Centre. We’re pleased to say that they're showing promising signs, despite concerns about the tree still being in the growth stage of its annual cycle when it was felled.

Several dozen seeds are now sprouting, having been planted in specially tested peat-free compost. We’ve also been using a variety of propagation methods to create genetically identical replicas of the tree. One of these methods is ‘budding’, where a single bud from the original tree is attached to a rootstock of the same species. We've also used two forms of grafting – ‘whip and tongue’ and ‘apical wedge’ grafting – where a scion (a cutting from the tree) and a rootstock are joined together by corresponding cuts in the material.

These techniques, delivered with a remarkable degree of care and precision by our conservationists, are providing a legacy for this much-loved tree. And while there’s a way to go before we have true saplings, we’ll be keeping everything crossed that these plants continue to grow stronger and can be planted out and enjoyed by many in the future.

A quote by Andrew Jasper Director of Gardens and Parklands

Conserving the tree

We've carefully moved the tree from Hadrian's Wall and have stored it safely. This was a complex and difficult operation at a very sensitive site and we're grateful to everyone who has assisted with this work. We've retained the tree in large sections, which means we can keep all options open for the future. Moving the tree has helped preserve Hadrian's Wall, which is a 1,900-year-old monument, and made the site safe for visitors again.

We've also installed a temporary fence to protect the tree’s stump, which we hope will begin to sprout new shoots in time. It could take up to three years to know if this will be possible. We'd like to ask visitors to keep away from the trunk and take note of signage and the fence to help ensure maximum potential for new growth.

Working together

We're working with the Northumberland National Park Authority, Historic England and Hadrian’s Wall Partnership to find the best way to honour the life of this much-loved tree. We'll announce further details of how local people and communities can get involved soon and we'll put any donations we've received to date towards commemorating the tree.

If you'd like to support our Plant a Tree appeal, which will help plant trees and support nature in Northumberland, you can donate at the bottom of the page. We'll put funds towards creating new woodlands and restoring nature in Northumberland.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in suggestions for how we can remember the sycamore. So far, we've had more than 2,000 ideas, with some of the most popular suggestions being to create a commemorative artwork and to plant more trees to benefit nature. We’ve also received hundreds of memories, which we collected in a temporary reflection space at The Sill in the Northumberland National Park Authority’s visitor hub. We'll use them to help inform our plans for the tree going forward.

Commemorating the Sycamore Gap tree

This iconic sycamore tree was planted in the late 1800s by the previous landowner, John Clayton, to be a feature of the landscape. The land and the tree came into our care in the 1940s.

The tree found fame when it was featured in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991 and was also awarded the English Tree of the Year award by the Woodland Trust in 2016.

A ranger crouching down in a field to check on some of the 100,000 trees planted on the Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire

Help plant more trees

For only £5, you could help to plant a tree that will support life for years to come. New Plant a Tree funds will go towards restoring woodlands and nature in Northumberland.

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