A TREE that has stood for almost two centuries in an Oxford park will be chopped down after falling victim to 'horrific' vandalism.

A mature oak tree in Risinghurst playing field will soon be felled on safety grounds, after someone hacked away the bark, drilled holes in the trunk and poured in a poisonous substance.

The tree in Grovelands Road, thought to be almost 200 years old, is quickly deteriorating after the 'malicious' attempt to kill it.

Risinghurst and Sandhills Parish Council, which looks after the playing field, saw last summer that the canopy was thin compared to two other oak trees next to it.

It brought in arboricultural consultant Nick Dunbar, who said he was 'shocked, saddened and quite upset' to discover the deliberate damage.

The tree expert, who lives in Wolvercote, said: "I look at thousands of trees every year and I've never seen anything like it. It's a shame.

"It's malicious vandalism with intent, which shut the tree's system down."

Far from a mindless attempt to stave off boredom, he said the attack had been well thought-out.

He suspects it was carried out using an axe or similar tool, a drill, potentially a funnel, and a poison such as weed killer or diesel.

The parish council will now have to pay about £1,500 to get the tree felled, to a monolith of about eight feet tall, and hope to eventually turn it into a wood carving.

Council chairwoman Barbara Naylor described the attack as 'horrific', and said the field is a valued facility used for the annual summer fete as well as fireworks.

The grandmother-of-six said police were informed but it was difficult to find out who is responsible.

Mrs Naylor, who lives near the playing field, added: "I know it's only a tree but to deliberately kill something that age is criminal.

"It is such a historic disaster and we feel saddened that the tree has lost its life in this way, after 200 years."

Another tree expert, one of three who provided quotes to the council for felling, wrote in his report: "I have been working with trees since 1991, and I have never seen such a sad case of vandalism on such a beautiful tree."

Risinghurst resident Peter Jacques, a part-time groundsman working for the parish council, said chopping down the tree was the 'best solution' to ensure people's long-term safety.

He said there was no immediate danger to people using the park, but the health of the tree had deteriorated.

His wife Barbara Wharton, who researched the tree's history, wrote in a parish council poster: "A survivor from the past, this oak is a link to how the area was.

"It was there when the area was transformed by construction of the housing estate in the mid-1930s onwards, when the Eastern Bypass was built...[and] when the estate was bisected by the city boundary.

"There must be so many residents with memories."

A date for the tree felling has not yet been confirmed.