A Hellingly resident said he was “shocked and appalled” that a 300-year-old tree has been felled in Hellingly churchyard.
Roger Paine, of Church Path, said the 35m tall Scots Pine was one of the most handsome trees at the historic site.
Wealden District Council said it had been removed for safety reasons, and there was clear evidence of considerable internal rot.
Commander Paine condemned what he described as “wilful destruction”. and said he was sure he was not alone in Hellingly to be “shocked and appalled”.
He said, “The Wealden Council wood butchers were summoned when a branch – small and light enough for me to drag out of the way of anyone visiting the churchyard – broke off the tree about three weeks ago. A hardly unusual event in January storms.
“The reasons given for this latest brutal felling have been predictable. ‘Health and safety’, ‘diseased’, ‘dangerous’, which are as ludicrous as they are untrue.
“Who are these vandals? Not the three wretched butchers with their chainsaws but those who have a duty of care to protect our heritage and preserve the environment in this ancient churchyard.
“The tree was home to nesting jackdaws, woodpeckers, nuthatches, a wide range of other birds, insects, squirrels and small mammals.
“It took just two days for it to be murdered after three centuries of steady growth culminating in a glorious pine-leaved canopy providing an annual harvest of sweet-smelling fir cones.
“Only a ground level stump now remains. The perfectly sound pine logs, none of which showed any sign of disease or decay, were taken away in a truck.”
Cdr Paine said ‘save the environment’ and ‘preserve our trees’ is a worldwide rallying call – “except in Hellingly”.
He added, “Those responsible should hang their heads in shame. But they won’t. Because, except for many like me who value our hugely important and irreplaceable countryside, not least its trees, they could not care less.”
A spokesman for Wealden District Council said, “Concerns about the safety of the tree were raised by the churchwarden after a branch from the upper crown fell into a neighbouring property.
“An inspection by the council’s arboriculturalists revealed its poor overall condition, and given its proximity to public areas and private housing, the decision was made to fell the tree for safety reasons.”
He said a photo, taken after felling, of a cross section at the midpoint of the tree shows clear evidence of considerable internal rot.
The spokesman continued, “We would not have taken such action if the tree had not posed a serious safety risk. We explained the situation to Cdr Paine at the time. We have received no complaints from other local residents.”
St Peter and St Paul Church at Hellingly was built on a ciric – a circular Celtic burial ground, raised above ground level to keep the dead dry.