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'Signs of life': Sycamore Gap tree will live on, experts say

The Sycamore Gap tree drew visitors and fame to a section of Hadrian's Wall near Hexham, in northern England. It's seen here in June and, at bottom, after it was felled in September.
Oli Scarff
AFP via Getty Images
The Sycamore Gap tree drew visitors and fame to a section of Hadrian's Wall near Hexham, in northern England. It's seen here in June and, at bottom, after it was felled in September.

The tree occupied a magical spot in the landscape of Northumberland, England, and in the hearts of people who visited it. So the news that efforts to propagate the ancient tree will likely succeed is being welcomed now, after the tree was felled in September.

"[We] are encouraged by positive signs of life, and are hopeful that over 30 per cent of the mature seeds and half of the cuttings (scions) will be viable," said Andy Jasper, the National Trust's director of gardens and parklands, in a statement sent to NPR.

"Over the next year, we'll be doing all we can to nurture the seeds and cuttings, in the hope that some will grow into strong, sturdy saplings," Jasper said, "providing a new future for this much-loved tree."

The sycamore's trunk might also regrow, Jasper said, but it could be several years before it's known whether that will bear out.

"As with many things in landscape restoration, we need to be patient and take the time to let nature do its thing," he said.

'No further action' for teen who was arrested

A 16-year-old boy was arrested shortly after the tree was cut down, in what police said was an act of deliberate vandalism. But Northumbria Police recently said the teen "will now face no further action by police." Instead, their focus is on three men — two in their 30s and one in his 60s — who were arrested in the weeks since the incident.

Police haven't divulged many details about the three remaining suspects, but media reports have suggested at least one of them is a former lumberjack who was in possession of a large chainsaw.

Criminal charges in the case could extend beyond the tree itself. Authorities recently announced that when the sycamore fell, it also damaged Hadrian's Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that once marked the ancient frontier of the Roman Empire.

Welcome news about a famously photogenic tree

The good news about the tree's legacy comes after weeks of waiting for word of whether the 200-year-old tree might somehow live on. The felling sparked public sadness and outrage as arborists rushed to the scene to try to preserve the tree.

The 200-year-old sycamore and its scenic location alongside Hadrian's Wall made it a famous spot for people to visit during vacations, walks and picnics. It also appeared in countless Instagram photographs and mementos, and at least one feature film.

Public response to the loss of the tree has been "unprecedented," according to the National Trust. The long-running conservation charity says nearly 17 million people have followed news of the tree through its social media channels.

The National Trust is the steward of thousands of acres of land around Hadrian's Wall, including parts of Northumberland National Park like the gully where the sycamore grew.

The trust and the park are now working on plans to create a lasting tribute to the tree, including how best to use the wood salvaged from its large trunk.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.