ARSONISTS are thought to be behind a fire at an Oxfordshire school farm, which caused tens of thousands of pounds damage.

Eight fire crews from across the county were called to the Warriner School in Bloxham, near Banbury, in the early hours of yesterday morning.

A barn was completely destroyed along with 1,200 straw bales. An antique threshing machine was also damaged.

Police said last night people were seen near the site just before the fire.

Farm manager Chris Holloway was called out at 1.30am and was on-site all morning helping to clear debris.

He said: “A lady who lives on the estate opposite called the fire service and a colleague who is a friend of hers.

“They both arrived at about 1am, and she called me.

“There is tens of thousands of pounds of damage. The insurance assessor will come out once the fire service has finished.”

He said hundreds of pupils would not be able to use the farm until the end of the week, at the earliest.

Mr Holloway said: “We immediately had to close, so the school pupils do not have access.

“The initial reaction from kids and parents was concern for the animals. I was able to tell them everything was ok and it was just material things that were damaged. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

The 120-acre site is the biggest school farm in the country and is run as a working farm with support from Warriner pupils.

Mr Holloway said the farm was home to animals including cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens and geese, and was used by students aged 11 to 16 from Warriner. It was also used by up to 4,000 pupils from primary schools in north Oxfordshire.

At its height 30 firefighters, from Banbury, Bicester, Hook Norton, Deddington and Chipping Norton, and specialist teams from Woodstock, Wheatley and Eynsham, fought the blaze as it threatened to spread to neighbouring sheds. Crews, above, were still damping down the area yesterday afternoon.

Police spokesman Chris Kearney said: “We are appealing for witnesses as the information we have is people were seen around the building at the time.

“We are treating this as arson.”

Anyone with information should call Thames Valley Police on 08458 505505 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.