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It existed before both world wars, before Alexander Bell invented the telephone, and even before the Great Fire of London in 1666, but a 700-year-old oak tree was nearly wiped out from the Royal Parks landscape - by a £1.99 barbecue.

For the third time this year, the fire brigade has been called to Richmond Park to deal with a fire caused by a disposable barbecue. In the most recent case, fire engulfed the hollow part of the veteran tree requiring fire officers and a tree surgeon to spend a gruelling four hours removing chunks of the tree to douse the flames. Luckily they were able to save the tree from being destroyed, although the fire killed countless insects. Over the years, however, several other veteran trees in Richmond Park have been irreparably damaged by barbecue fires.

These incidents highlight the dangers and damage caused by barbecues, which is why they are not allowed in any of London's eight Royal Parks.

Adam Curtis, Assistant Park Manager at Richmond Park, 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 or ancient trees.

"Police patrol the Royal Parks, but with all eight covering in excess of 5,000 acres there is no way they can catch everyone, so we ask the public to please take some responsibility and recognise the dangers."

Sergeant Michael Boulton from the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit of the Metropolitan Police said:

"I would urge people not to bring barbecues into any of the Royal Parks. Recklessly damaging the park may constitute a criminal offence which upon conviction is likely to result in a fine of up to £20,000. If people see a fire in a Royal Park please call 999."

In Greenwich Park, another of London's Royal Parks, a refuse truck was set alight by a disposable barbecue thrown in a bin, nearly causing £50,000 of damage.

Graham Dear, Park Manager at Greenwich Park, said:

"Barbecues scorch grass, harm wildlife and are a major fire risk. The concern with disposable barbecues in particular is that users place them in litter bins when they think they are cold, and they set light to the bins, or in the case here at Greenwich, the fire starts in the refuse trucks. Thankfully we were able to put this particular fire out but it could have been a lot worse."

The Royal Parks are: Bushy Park, The Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, Richmond Park and St James's Park .


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