A GROUP of partying hoodlums enjoyed a bonfire just 10 yards from the thatched Richard Jefferies Museum.

Volunteers turned up on Tuesday morning to find the remains of a bonfire in the back garden.

The trespassers, who are thought to have held their party early in the Easter weekend, burned a child’s sandpit and uprooted a fence post. Bizarrely, they appeared to have collected up empty cans of beer and left them in a rubbish bag. 

Dr Mike Pringle of the Richard Jefferies Museum said he understood that young people struggled for places to go. But he said: “I just wish they realised how much hurt it causes. The area where the fire was is used for the toddlers and the mums. They sit there and enjoy it – and it’s [now] completely trashed.” 

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Dr Mike Pringle, left, with the remains of the vandalised tent Picture: DAVE COX

He said of discovering the vandalism: “It was really, really disappointing – especially as we’ve got a tent there as well which looks as though it’s been slashed to pieces.

“The irony of it is that somebody had carefully put most of the beer cans in a bag. 

“I had a real mixture of feelings on Tuesday because we try to keep the place open, we don’t want it locked down with signs everywhere and with security barbed wire. The whole ethos of the place is a bit more about freedom.”

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The party was discovered as volunteers arrived at the Coate Water museum – the birthplace of natural history writer Richard Jefferies – to plan how the charity might restart its programme of events as lockdown eases.

“We just arrived on Tuesday morning and found there had been a bit of a do there because they’d moved all of the picnic benches around the fire that they’d made,” Dr Pringle said. 

“They’d burned all manner of strange things, including pulling up an old fence post that had been attached to a fence. They also burned a children’s sandpit; the sandpit is a wooden table with benches.”

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The Richard Jefferies Museum Picture: NEWSQUEST

Volunteers suspect the party took place on Friday or Saturday, as the remains of the bonfire pointed to a large blaze and the pile of ashes were cold through by Tuesday morning. 

The museum’s volunteers posted about the tragedy on social media and, in 24 hours, had raised around £700. “People have been so generous,” Dr Pringle told the Adver. The money is likely to be spent on heightened security measures. 

Wiltshire Police confirmed it was investigating the incident. A spokesman for the force said: “We are appealing for anyone who may have heard or seen anything suspicious in this area over the long weekend to contact us on 101, quoting crime reference number 54210031733.” 

To donate to the Richard Jefferies Museum, visit www.richardjefferies.org or call 01793 979224.