Landscape photographers throughout the UK and beyond woke up to terrible news on Thursday, September 28th as it was announced that Sycamore Gap in Northumberland had been the target of a horrific and senseless act of apparent vandalism.

The tree – which was awarded Tree Of The Year in 2016 and sits in a picturesque dip along Hadrian’s Wall – was made famous thanks to not only the thousands of images captured from the site by landscape photographers, but also its appearance in the 1991 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves’.

Reports say it was felled in what the police are calling a ‘deliberate act’ with a chainsaw apparently taken to the trunk. 300 years of history erased in one night and a view that was iconic as it was beautiful gone forever.

The Northumberian view was of particular interest to landscape photographers due to the location benefiting from extremely low light pollution, enabling photographers to capture astrophotography such as star trails or frames that included the Milky Way, but for me, these headlines feel more personal.

I grew up in Northumberland, I remember walking past the tree during a youthful scout hike and, when I could first afford a camera, it was one location I had to frame up through the viewfinder.

The barbaric crime also asks another important question; how many more landscape views in the UK are potentially under threat?

Photo (C) Matty Graham

Sycamore Gap, Panoramic, Photo (C) Matty Graham

Canon EOS 6D · f/2.8 · 1/2500s · 50mm · ISO160

Throughout summer we saw Durdle Door hit the news as time after time, people climbed up onto the fragile arch, either not knowing how much danger they were in or how much damage they could have caused or perhaps they did know and simply did not care.

The Harry Potter Railway View at Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland has seen an increase in parking related issues and, proving that this isn’t just a UK problem, in 2020 New Zealand’s famous ‘Wanaka Tree’ was attacked by vandals armed with saws.

The very beauty that makes landscape photographers want to visit these locations makes them a target for idiots that show zero respect and simply want to destroy, when those with cameras want to record and create.

In the age of social media platforms we also run the risk of copycat attacks on other landmarks and, with police resources stretched like never before, it may well fall on us photographers to be vigilant, and to report incidents.

All we have now is the photos of a once-beautiful tree, as the felled remnants currently lay toppled over ancient stones laid by the Romans and wrapped in police crime scene tape.

I shall look back at my photos of Sycamore Gap with much fondness, but now also with a seething anger that human hands could do such devastating damage for no fathomable reason.

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