Pontfadog Oak: 1,200-year-old tree toppled by winds

image captionThe Pontfadog Oak, which had recently been covered in snow, was felled by high winds overnight

A 1,200-year-old tree reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest oaks in the UK has been toppled by strong winds.

It is understood the Pontfadog Oak, which has been growing near Chirk in Wrexham since the year 802, was felled by gusts of around 60mph overnight on Wednesday.

The famous sessile oak tree had a girth of 42ft 5in (12.9m).

Legend has it that Welsh princes used to rally troops at the tree.

The oak - which had a huge hollow trunk said to big enough to seat six people at a table - had become a local attraction for walkers and visitors in recent years.

Rob McBride, a so-called "tree hunter" who measures and logs trees, said it was rare for an oak to live to such an age, with most usually lasting around 900 years.

"The tree was one of the biggest and oldest oak trees on the planet," said Mr McBride, who lives close to the Pontfadog Oak.

"It has a very significant history and until about 200 years ago was a tree that was pollarded - with branches and leaves regularly cut to feed animals and build fencing."

He added that villagers had gathered after hearing about the tree, adding: "It's quite like a wake".

media captionThe Pontfadog Oak has been growing near Chirk in Wrexham since the year 802

Mr McBride said he had been campaigning for ancient trees like the Pontfadog Oak to be given a protected status like castles.

"If it had had a few thousand pounds spent on some supporting work, it may well have stayed upright," he said.

'Almighty crash'

The tree is believed to have been a rallying point for Welsh princes, including Owain Gwynedd who is said to have met his troops under the oak in the 12th Century before defeating King Henry II of England in battle.

Dianne Coakley-Williams, whose husband Huw's family owned the oak and its land for generations, said she was woken by an "almighty crash and a bang" as it fell near their house at about 02:20 BST on Thursday.

"The wind here was absolutely dreadful - I've never known anything like it before ever," she said.

media captionShaun Burky of the Woodland Trust says more can be done to protect ancient trees

"I suppose it's lucky that nobody was hurt. But it's just so sad. My mother-in-law is devastated. She said it's like losing an old friend."

Angharad Evans of the Woodland Trust said the tree had had a lot to cope with over the past few weeks, with heavy snow, a prolonged cold snap and finally high winds.

"The Woodland Trust believes that this sad case illustrates how we are failing to provide adequate protection for our ancient trees at present," she added.

Local assembly member Ken Skates said Wrexham had lost one of its "most important and iconic pieces of local heritage".

But Mr McBride said some people were also talking about the possibility of re-erecting the tree.

"It's early days. They would have to take the top off and then re-erecting it, which can be done. It's such a significant tree," he added.

image captionThe Woodland Trust says more should be done to conserve ancient trees