Patrols are being stepped up by forest keepers after extensive damage was caused to Essex's oldest golf course.

Over the last two weekends, youths are suspected of starting camp fires on the tees of Chingford Golf Course in Bury Road causing a potential grass fire in nearby Chingford Plain.

The golf course run by the City of London Corporation for over a century, has decided to step up patrols by forest keepers after drug paraphernalia including nitros oxide or 'laughing gas' canisters and empty bottles of alcohol were found at the fire sites.

Senior forest keeper, Tristan Vetta, said: "The hot, dry weather conditions are a particular concern.

"We are dealing with not only a fire risk but potential lasting damage to the golf course.

"Over the last couple of Friday and Saturday nights, groups of youths have been drinking, smoking, taking laughing gas and having camp fires.

"The damage takes time to repair and fix and can be the cause of a much bigger health risk. It is drought season and the forest is prone to setting alight so we are stepping up our routine patrols."

Forest keepers were called to Pole Hill in Chingford yesterday morning following reports of two fires.

Mr Vetta said the fires were started by secondary school-leavers burning their text books with one fire being started inside a 200 year-old oak tree.

The corporation is urging the public to report these instances immediately to the fire brigade and forest keepers on 020 8532 1010.

The 18 hole course was originally designed in 1888 as the Royal Epping Forest Golf Club by James Braid and spread all the way to Epping New Road with some of the old teeing areas still in existence behind the Warren Wood Pub.