The world-famous 1,000-year-old Major Oak tree in Sherwood Forest has fallen victim to vandalism.
Someone has caused a large three-foot chunk of bark to fall off the iconic tree, where the legendary outlaw Robin Hood is fabled to have met his "merry men".
The RSPB, which runs part of the Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve, said fibreglass protection on the iconic tree has also been damaged.
It is thought the “disgraceful” damage was caused by someone climbing on the tree, despite access to it being prohibited for more than 40 years.
An estimated 350,000 tourists visit Sherwood Forest each year to see the oak tree.
Completely hollow inside, it has a hole in the trunk which visitors used to climb inside.
However, the practice was stopped and the area around the tree’s roots fenced in the 1970s as conservationists recognised the damage this was causing to the ancient tree.
The forest is also a national nature reserve and has some of the highest natural protections in Europe.
Gemma Howarth, the RSPB’s site manager, said it was "heartbreaking" to find the damage while she was doing a regular check of the site during lockdown.
She said: "The Major Oak is a massively important part of our national heritage both in terms of our natural world and the Robin Hood legend which brings so many people to Sherwood from around the world.
“This is an area heavily reliant on tourism for our local and regional economy – the vast majority of people who visit the area want to come and see the Major Oak."
Howarth said she believes the damage was caused by somebody trying to get inside the tree during lockdown when the forest was quiet.
But she added: "No-one should have been near it in the first place.
“This fantastic tree isn’t something we can just regrow in our lifetimes, or even that of our grandchildren – it has survived a thousand years of history and as its custodians, we want it to be here for many more years to come.
“It’s heartbreaking to see it being damaged, especially at a time when nature had been helping so many people by providing interest and enjoyment during lockdown.
"We’d always urge anyone who sees any behaviour like this to get in touch immediately.”
Listen to the latest podcast from Yahoo Finance UK