The world famous tree at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland has been felled by vandals overnight, park authorities fear.
The tree, which was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016 , is visited by tens of thousands of walkers each year and featured in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.
Northumberland National Park said it had “reason to believe” that the tree had been illegally felled overnight and Northumbria Police said it was investigating.
The public has been asked to stay clear of the scene while investigations are ongoing.
Nestled in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall , the sycamore tree was one of the most photographed trees in the country, and was located between Milecastle 39 and Crag Lough, about two miles west of Housesteads Roman Fort.
The wall and adjacent land, including the site of the tree, are owned by the National Trust.
A spokesman for Northumberland National Park Authority said: “Northumberland National Park Authority can confirm that sadly, the famous tree at Sycamore Gap has come down over night. We have reason to believe it has been deliberately felled.
“We are working with the relevant agencies and partners with an interest in this iconic North East landmark and will issue more details once they are known.
“Northumberland National Park Authority would like to ask the public not to visit the site at this time whilst we work with our partners to identify what has happened and to make the site safe.”
The tree is believed to be several hundred years old and won The Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition in 2016 after receiving 21 per cent of nearly 12,000 votes cast by the public.
The tree was nearly destroyed in 2003 when a helicopter carrying Alan Titchmarsh crashed just metres from the spot, the TV gardener narrowly escaping injury.
In recent years it became known as the Robin Hood Tree after featuring in a key scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
It also appeared in the music video for Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It for You which featured on the film’s soundtrack.
A spokesman for the North East Heritage Library said on Twitter: “This spot means so much to so many people, and I can’t imagine any authority would be stupid enough to fell this tree especially without preliminary approval.
“If this is a rogue job I hope there’s consequences.”
One woman, who visited the site on Thursday, posted a picture on Facebook of the felled tree with the caption: “An awful moment for all walking Hadrians wall the Sycamore Gap tree has gone! Not the storm an absolute f— felled it!!”
Another user replied: “I am absolutely heartbroken as someone that is there often taking photos.”
The Woodland Trust said it was “horrible” to see that the tree had been felled.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We can confirm an investigation has been launched following damage to the Sycamore Gap Tree in Northumberland.
“Enquiries are ongoing to establish whether any criminal offences have been committed.”
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said she was “incandescent” and promised to raise the matter personally.
Since January the illegal felling of trees has been punishable with unlimited fines and prison sentences.
The National Trust , which manages the site, said it was “shocked and saddened” by the incident.
Andrew Poad, general manager, said: “The tree has been an important and iconic feature in the landscape for nearly 200 years and means a lot to the local community and to anyone who has visited the site.”
Superintendent Kevin Waring, of Northumbria Police, said: “This is an incredibly sad day. The tree was iconic to the North East and enjoyed by so many who live in or who have visited this region.
“As a Force, we are fully committed to finding out the full circumstances and we will consider every tactic at our disposal in this investigation. Anyone found to have been responsible for this damage – which we believe to be a deliberate act of vandalism – can expect to be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”