"A FOREST has been stolen" – those were the words of a police officer upon hearing of the theft of hundreds of trees from a school in Canterbury.
Pupils from the Steiner School were left distressed by the night-time raids, when as many as 700 wild fruit trees planted as part of a charity project were ripped from the ground by their roots.
Teacher Larry Klatzko said: "Our children were engaged in this activity as a positive environmental deed, and they're quite distraught by what has happened.
"It's something that was meant to enhance their lives. We hoped they could return to the school in years to come and show their own children what they had created."
The Chartham school was taking part in a Woodland Trust scheme to plant six million trees across the country, in celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Staff and pupils planted a total of 840 trees as part of the project, which nationally was led by patron Princess Anne and raised £8 million for charity.
The swathes of stolen shrubs, which were worth about £3,000, had been planted along a lane spanning 400 metres at the former site of St Augustine's Hospital in Chartham.
The school bought the site in 2011, and had agreed to improve the land as part of a planning application to move the institution there from its current site in Garlinge Green.
Mr Klatzko said: "We've tried to rejuvenate the area. We wanted to enhance the environment, develop it for permaculture and enable children to learn about the land.
"We've reported both thefts to the police. The officer I spoke to said, "so, a forest has been stolen?" It's very strange."
The first batch of 300 trees is believed to have been stolen over a ten-day period at the end of March, and a further 400 were nabbed overnight last Monday (April 22).
It is believed the culprits may attempt to sell them on cut-price, but teacher Mr Klatzko warned the plants would not survive.
The theft of newly-planted trees and shrubs is thought to be relatively common in rural areas.
Elsewhere, in Kingston, a 60m hedgerow worth more than £500 was reported stolen from a farm on Wednesday, April 3.
A police spokesman confirmed officers were investigating the thefts.
Information to police on 101 quoting reference ZY/011532/13, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.