Vandalism shock before Countess of Wessex’s St Albans visit
PUBLISHED: 07:08 12 May 2013
DAYS before a royal visit to St Albans, hard-hearted vandals destroyed hours of voluntary work in a recently planted suburban wood by tearing away stakes and plastic guards protecting hundreds of seedlings.
The yobs then used the wooden stakes as kindling to burn a bonfire in Highfield Park – right in the middle of neighbouring woodland and nearly setting alight mature trees next to the cricket pavilion.
Members of Highfield Park Trust were left seething upon learning of the mess a mere two days before the highly anticipated and organised visit of the Countess of Wessex.
The vandalism was discovered by members of the public last Monday, who immediately alerted the trust.
The 500 seedlings had been thriving in the newly planted Hither Wood, and were the result of many hours of volunteer work courtesy of community-minded schoolchildren, residents and business people who planted them.
Chairman of the trust Roger Thomas said: “It was awful. The trees are three-feet tall and were planted in January by volunteers.”
As a result, instead of last-minute preparations for the royal visit such as further mowing of the green, four Highfield Park staff and five trustees spent an entire day re-staking and replacing the plastic guards on Tuesday.
Apart from a patch of scorched earth in the wooded area where the fire was lit, there was no sign of the vandalism when the Countess visited the suburban beauty spot the next day.
Roger said: “One of our trustees was so angry that he couldn’t sleep the whole night. Trust members are absolutely furious. We also found some people camping in one of the woods but people are not allowed to do that. I told them to leave.”
Despite the last-minute drama, the royal visit went without a hitch as the Countess mingled with representatives of local clubs, businesses and school children.
The Countess told members of St Albans Health Walks: “I love going for walks and when you can talk to someone else, you don’t realise how far you have gone.”
Then, pointing at her stilettos, she joked: “Although I’m not sure I’d qualify with this footwear.”
The Countess also talked to St Albans Boot Camp representatives, with trainer Barrie Johnston praising her “down-to-earth sense of humour” as he tried, unsuccessfully, to convert her to attend his fitness sessions.
The Countess also quizzed trust members on whether there were beehives at the 82-acre site, established from the parkland grounds of the former Hill End and Cell Barnes hospitals.
She urged: “We have to promote bees. The orchard would be an ideal place to have them. I used to love standing under a lime tree when all you can hear is the hum of bees.
“The park is beautiful.”
The Countess praised local schoolchildren for their efforts in helping to plant Hither Wood, a new 6,800-tree woodland within Highfield.