IT HAS stood for centuries and inspired one of Swindon’s most famous sons. But an ancient yew tree from the garden of Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies’ house in Coate has finally been laid to rest by Swindon Council.

The yew tree was believed to be between 800 and 1,000 years old and was axed because of fears that it was causing damage to the house.

This fact is disputed by members of the Richard Jefferies Society.

All that is now left of the 40ft tree is a two-inch high stump, which the council plans to drill out next week, and a bird box.

Jean Saunders, the society’s secretary, said: “Three years ago we requested that the yew be protected with a tree preservation order along with others of literary merit in Richard Jefferies’ garden.

“We were reassured that there was no need as Swindon Council would look after trees on their own property.

“We got wind that the council wanted to take down the tree earlier this year, blaming it for a crack in the house. We protested most strongly, and thought that we had reached agreement with them that the tree should be reduced in height and better managed.

“We are angry at this act of vandalism and bitterly disappointed that the council has sneaked in behind our backs and carried out this abominable act. Eight hundred years to grow – hours to cut down.”

Mrs Saunders claimed that the contractors who had undertaken the work were horrified at what they were doing.

She said: “They told me they had never been so upset to have to cut a tree down and if we had been there to stop them they would have walked away.”

The society has made an appeal to the council not to remove the stump and, if this is accepted, there is a chance that there might be some regrowth.

A Swindon Council spokesman said: “We took the decision to fell this yew tree with huge reluctance, but the unavoidable fact is that its roots were damaging a listed, historic building and there was no other option.

“Like many buildings of its age, it has no proper foundations and is therefore very sensitive to movement and disturbance. We wrote to Jean Saunders some weeks ago to let her know that we intended to fell the tree, and have discussed the issue fully with her.”