Seeds collected from felled Sycamore Gap tree ‘springing into life’ at specialist conservation centre

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

Seeds and material collected from the Sycamore Gap tree after it was felled last September are beginning to ‘spring into life’, according to conservationists at the National Trust.

Pictures released this week show a collection of small seedlings and buds growing at the charity’s Plant Conservation Centre, where staff have been carefully looking after the delicate material for the past five months. 

The iconic sycamore tree had stood in a dip in Hadrian’s Wall, in Northumberland National Park, for around 200 years before it was felled in an act of vandalism last autumn, sparking an unprecedented public response. 

In December, staff revealed that the material was showing ‘signs of life’ but that the timing of the event – when the tree was still in the growth stage of its annual cycle – was less than ideal for propagating. 

Since the felling, experts have used a range of techniques to cultivate the material. These include ‘budding’, where a single bud from the original tree is attached to a rootstock of the same species, and 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 processes are designed to create genetically identical replicas of the original Sycamore Gap tree. 

The Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, was moved by crane on 12 October 2023 | © National Trust Images/Bec Hughes

The seeds meanwhile have been grown on in a special peat-free compost mix, having first been washed and checked for any disease, with several dozen now sprouting. 

Andrew Jasper, Director of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust, said:

“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.” 

“As well as being a fundamental part of our ecosystems, trees are an intrinsic part of our cultural heritage – a form of living history. Our Plant Conservation Centre cares for some of the rarest, and most historically and culturally significant trees, from descendants of the apple tree that inspired Isaac Newton’s theories, to cuttings from the Ankerwycke Yew, which has stood at Runnymede for centuries and will even have witnessed the sealing of Magna Carta there in 1215. 

“The response to the Sycamore Gap tree’s felling has been extraordinary, and we hope that by continuing to share its story, we can raise awareness of the cultural and natural significance of these majestic trees that we’re so lucky to have in the UK.” 

The National Trust, working together with Northumberland National Park, Historic England and the Hadrian’s Wall Partnership, said its plans for the plants were still developing, and that saplings wouldn’t be ready to be planted out for at least 12 months. 

Meanwhile, the organisations are planning a range of responses to the tree’s felling later this year, which will include work with local schools, tree planting initiatives in Northumberland, and artistic interpretations. Details about these will be shared in the coming months, the organisations said, and had been inspired by the 2,000 ideas and tributes received from the public. 

Wood from the tree has been carefully treated and is being stored under advice from experts. 

Tony Gates, Chief Executive Officer, Northumberland National Park Authority said:

“Along with other National Park officers, I was at Sycamore Gap in the immediate hours following the felling of the tree, managing the unfolding story as it happened and responding to the media. Whilst all of that was taking place, a team from the National Trust arrived to collect seed and other material from the tree. The seed did not appear to be mature enough and the chances of success appeared slim, but the idea of a direct link from the tree, at the time of it being felled, was a powerful one. 

“How great it is that experts have been able to bring us this direct connection and refreshed hope. I look forward to working with the National Trust as we see how these beacons can send hope far beyond Northumberland. I would like to thank the team who have made this happen.”

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