Knettishall: Landmark tree destroyed at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Knettishall Heath

A LANDMARK tree at a well known Suffolk Nature reserve has been totally destroyed in a fire.

And police today said they were treating the incident as arson.

The fire was on the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Knettishall Heath and the tree sat on top of an area of the heath called Hut Hill, an ancient bronze age burial mound.

A dog walker alerted the fire service to the tree ablaze at 4,43pm yesterday and two fire crews, one from Ixworth and another from Thetford attended the site close to Norwich Lane.

They used buckets of water to contain the fire and were at the scene until 6.40pm

Ranger Samantha Gay helped fire crews gain access to dowse the flames and make the area safe.

All that remains of the tree, thought to be 100 years old, is a stump and charred trunk.

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She said: “It is a shame this isolated incident has happened, and we are glad nobody was hurt.

“We are grateful to the dog walker who alerted us and are pleased the fire did not spread and cause any greater damage to the heath and its wildlife.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Police confirmed that the incident was being treated as suspicious after a group of youths dressed just in shorts were reported to have been seen in the area.

They were described as white males with one wearing blue and black checked shorts with a dark-coloured baseball cap.

“We are treating the incident as arson and are asking anyone who can help us with our investigation to get in touch with us,” she added.

Police can be called on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

The heath has been in Trust ownership since the beginning of the year with a new People and Wildlife Ranger in post to develop new opportunities for local communities to get involved at the reserve.

The site is well used by local people, from dog walkers to those coming for a dip in the Little Ouse.

In January the Trust launched an appeal to raise �100,000 to secure the purchase of the heath and achieved success after only a week-and-a-half.

It had previously been awarded its biggest ever grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund of �720,000 towards buying the heathland – which is one of Suffolk’s largest surviving areas of Breckland – but still had a further �100,000 to raise.

With a deadline to complete the purchase by the end of January, the Trust launched an urgent appeal for support on January 7 and was overwhelmed by the response from people from all over the county.

The Trust has said the purchase is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for it to secure one of Suffolk’s largest surviving areas of Breckland.

The new nature reserve is the largest owned by the trust and its importance for wildlife is reflected in the fact that much of Knettishall Heath is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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