Close call for Royal Park's 700-year-old oak after barbecue fire

An ancient oak tree that has been growing for seven centuries was nearly destroyed by a £2 disposable barbecue.

Oak on fire in Richmond Park. Image: Supplied
Oak on fire in Richmond Park. Image: Supplied

For the third time this year, the fire brigade has been called to Richmond Park to deal with a barbecue fire, despite them being banned in all eight Royal Parks.

In the most recent case, fire engulfed the hollow part of the veteran oak tree requiring fire officers and a tree surgeon to spend a gruelling four hours removing chunks of wood to douse the flames. The tree was saved although the fire killed countless insects.

Over the years, however, several other veteran trees in Richmond Park have been irreparably damaged by barbecue fires, and at Greenwich Park a refuse truck was set alight by a disposable barbecue thrown in a bin, nearly causing £50,000 of damage.

Richmond Park's assistant park manager Adam Curtis said: "What people don't realise is how easy these fires can start. People buy their cheap barbecue from a supermarket, seek a spot which provides shelter from the wind, and next thing they know they've set a 700-year-old tree on fire. Invariably they get scared and run off.

"Apart from the obvious tree damage, fires can have a serious impact on wildlife including killing bats or baby chicks by choking them to death, destroying grass snake's nests and obliterating the wildlife that feed on the dead or decaying wood of veteran and ancient trees."

Local authorities have trialled various solutions to the barbecue problem, according to a briefing note on barbecues in public parks from the Association of Public Service Excellence.

It recommends options such as providing a designated barbecue area and installing fireproof barbecue disposal bins.

APSE warns that the public should be consulted on any major changes as some users may see a ban as an infringement on their rights.

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