Ancient tree on Hampstead Heath cut down after vandals set fire to it

A 150-year-old tree on Hampstead Heath, which housed a protected species of insect, has been felled after vandals set it on fire.

The 12ft ash tree next to Highgate Men’s Pond was spotted smouldering on Thursday morning (September 6) and fire crews were called to douse the flames which are believed to have been flickering for hours.

But the tree, which was home to a colony of protected stag beetles, had to be torn down to make sure the fire had been entirely extinguished and the damage had caused it to become unsafe.

One fire crew was called to the scene at 11.53am and the fire was under control by half an hour later.

The Heath’s specialist tree team had been tending to the tree for the last six years to transform the decaying trunk into a haven for the rare species.

It is believed that someone set a fire in the cavity of the tree the night before.

But no police probe has been launched as there are no leads to follow up.

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A spokesman for the City of London Corporation, which manages the open space, said: “It’s a real shame given that the tree was a unique habitat on the Heath.

“The tree has been decaying from the inside - as is perfectly natural for an aging tree, and the hollows and decaying wood provided a great home for stag beetles and lesser stag beetles.

“The tree has had to be felled – there was no other option. We will try to leave some of the remnant wood in situ as habitat for the beetles and other creatures.”

Wildlife enthusiast Ron Vester said parakeets, woodpeckers and other wildlife often nested in the ancient ash.

“What would appear to be vandalism has spoilt the home of many insects and beetles living there,” he said.

“That tree was like a statue there, it was known by everyone. People would always stop and look up at the tree to see a baby parakeet peeping down at them, with their little heads poking out.”