Police have stepped up the hunt for a phantom lumberjack who has felled more than 50 trees in less than a month in Surrey.
After a break of almost a week with no trees being felled, eight more were chainsawed down by the crook at the weekend.
Despite increasing night-time patrols with the help of a newly-formed residents action group and scouring CCTV footage police have still yet to catch the culprit.
The culprit has now hacked down between 50 and 60 trees – many of them mature trees more than 20ft high – in a two-mile stretch between Walton-on-Thames and Weybridge, both of which are in the Elmbridge borough in Surrey.
The area is home to some of the UK’s highest earners with the average home selling at around £900,000 and some going for up to £14million.
Among the celebrity residents – past and present – include Gary Lineker, Andy Murray, Ronnie Wood, Kate Winslet, Peter Crouch, and Chris Tarrant.
Police this week urged members of the public to ‘keep an eye out’ for the crook, who strikes in the dead of night – firing up a chainsaw and cutting down trees.
Surrey Police have stepped up patrols after a phantom lumberjack has now cut down between 50 and 60 trees
Surrey Police shared photographs of the trees which have been cut down in the most recent spate of mysterious attacks
A map shows all the locations where chopped trees have been reported in Walton-on-Thames and Weybridge in Surrey
At the weekend, eight more trees were chopped down – four on the same road, after the phantom lumberjack struck again.
The majority of the trees – with between 50 and 60 felled since the spree began on March 28 – are by the side of busy roads, along the side of the Thames or along walkways.
Despite night-time patrols by police officers and patrols by members of the newly-formed Elmbridge Tree Patrol Facebook group, the culprit is still ‘at large’.
Police have now stepped up the hunt for the vandal, and yesterday confirmed that a further eight trees had been chopped down at the weekend.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said: ‘Despite patrols and a period of no trees being felled it is apparent that the suspect or suspects have returned.
‘We have spent the past few weeks pouring over CCTV and ANPR data in an effort to identify who is felling the trees.
Residents have said the tree massacre is causing distress in the surrounding community when green space is much needed
A joint statement from Surrey Police and Elmbridge Borough Council said it was ‘following up all relevant information’
‘We have followed up on a number of leads given by the community but still there are still insufficient grounds to identify a suspect.’
He said that over the weekend ‘eight more trees’ in Weybridge had been chopped down ‘in the hours of darkness’ – four in just one street.
The officer said that officers are now ‘reviewing CCTV’ in the area in the hope of nailing the crook.
Inspector Bert Dean, the Elmbridge Borough Commander, said the person felling the trees was ‘mindless’, and that some trees were ‘obstructing roads’ after being chopped down.
He added: ‘Most recently damage has been caused overnight on April 17.
‘It is incredibly sad that someone is destroying these trees. Not only are these a haven for wildlife but they bring much pleasure to our community.
A jogger looks at modest stump that remains after a tree was chopped down with a chainsaw on the banks of the river Thames
The phantom lumberjack has caused extensive damage with a series of attacks on a picturesque stretch of land near Thames
‘I am speaking to local councillors who are increasingly concerned at this issue and we review every bit of evidence we can to try and identify who is doing this.
‘We continue with our patrols into the night, whilst also responding to emergencies. I am aware that the public are wishing to support us.’
He asked members of the public to keep an eye out and send over any CCTV footage, adding: ‘Local officers are requesting any CCTV footage to be uploaded that may assist in identifying the suspect(s) who is committing this damage to trees in Elmbridge.
‘We do not require images of felled trees as this will not lead us to identify the suspect at this time.’
Officers believe the culprit – who can be arrested for criminal damage – drives to the scenes of the crime in a ‘small red car’.
Anthony Cilia, a retired kitchen-fitter from Weybridge, was among the first to spot the damage to the trees, one of which was sliced into several pieces.
One local who lives in the area said: ‘I heard the buzzing of a chainsaw early this morning and raced out to confront the culprit but it was actually council workers slicing up one of the trees which had been felled overnight so they could remove it’
Elmbridge Borough Commander Inspector Bert Dean, of Surrey Police, added: ‘I do not underestimate the impact this mindless damage has on the local community as well as the risk it has posed to motorists by obstructing roads’
He said: ‘Why this person is doing it is beyond me. There are plenty of wooded areas nearby to go to, but for some reason they are choosing to do it in a public area on the banks of the river.
‘Not only is it a blight on an area the council has spent several millions of pounds on improving, but more importantly, it’s dangerous.
‘Several of the trees have been downed on to the road running past the Thames by Walton Bridge, which has very little light in the evenings so could cause a car accident.
‘None of the trees look to have been chopped up for firewood, could it be someone with a grudge against the council? I don’t know, perhaps this person has mental health issues.
‘What is worrying is that whoever they are, they have access to a chainsaw, powerful enough to slice through a 60cm tree trunk.’
Another local resident, Christine Elmer, said that trees which had been grown specially in memory of loved ones who had died were also targeted.
Two frustrated locals look at the devastation caused by the phantom lumberjack on the riverbank in a leafy part of Surrey
Two women walk past the scene of one of the mysterious tree attacks, which has left branches floating in the river
She tweeted: ‘Really important if anyone has any info on who is going around our town and wider Borough cutting down trees, including Memorial trees, to get in touch with the Elmbridge Police.’
The founder of the Elmbridge Tree Patrol Facebook site, which now has more than 900 members, wrote: ‘As you all know there’s a maniac going around Weybridge, Walton on Thames and Cobham chopping down trees ruining the environment, eco system, habitats and making everyone upset.
‘I have set up this group so we can all as a community volunteer to patrol the area at night to try and hunt down and video record this lunatic.’
It states that the ‘Group Rules’ which members must follow include never giving the location of where they are patrolling, adding: ‘Do not confront this person for obvious reasons but instead record everything including his red car and pass it over to the police using the reference number.’
Concerned resident Rachel Young said: ‘This is causing major distress to the community at a time when we need our trees and green spaces more than ever.’
Susan Reynolds wrote: ‘It’s very worrying that someone is wandering around with a chainsaw and appears not to know how to use it properly.
‘Let’s hope that he/she is caught quickly before someone gets hurt, possibly the culprit!’
Kirstie Ahern added: ‘Looks like you have a serial feller on your hands’, and Kath Bennett joked: ‘I think it’s a case for Special Branch.’
Martin Deacon said: ‘Hopefully the next one will land on them.’