The hard-working volunteers who look after a 300-acre nature reserve near Chislehurst have been forced to appeal for public help after increasing acts of vandalism.

Friends of Scadbury Park were left devastated at the weekend after a special picnic table, designed to be accessible to the disabled, was seemingly doused in petrol and torched late on Saturday night.

The table, which cost around £1,500 and was among the bigger investments made to the park in 2019, was totally destroyed in the senseless incident.

“In a way it was actually more devastating seeing the details emerge on Saturday evening,” said Tyler Smith, the visitor experience director for Friends of Scadbury Park.

“We know a few residents who live close-by and when we were seeing the original photo it looked like a lot of trees on fire.

“When we arrived the next morning, to be honest, we were dreading what we’d find. I guess it was quite a relief to see the park was at least busy the next day.”

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London Fire Brigade at the scene

But the suspected arson is just the latest in a series of incidents of vandalism, which Mr Smith said had been increasing in recent years, but has become even more regular since the first coronavirus lockdown in March.

Despite a huge rise in visitors this year as a result of the pandemic, the Friends group has seen its funds decimated after their calendar of volunteer events had to be suspended for 2020.

It was also impacted by the furloughing of contracted staff responsible for the maintenance of the park, as well as a “significant” drop in the number of donations.

“The pandemic has certainly made things a lot tougher for us,” Mr Smith, a lifelong Chislehurst resident who has been volunteering on the park team for four years, said.

“Our team is entirely voluntary and operates with about 20 core volunteers.

“We also have around 500 members in our group, but there is no fee or subscription to join at all”.

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The destroyed bench

The team has expressed hope that CCTV could eventually be installed to help deter would-be vandals, but acknowledged that other parts of Bromley borough lacking in CCTV should still be a priority.

London Fire Brigade also confirmed it had attended the incident, with a spokesman adding:

“Firefighters were called to reports of trees alight at Scadbury Park in Chislehurst on Saturday.

“The Brigade was called at 2241 and the fire was under control by 2300. One fire engine from Sidcup Fire Stations was at the scene.”

With few other alternatives, the volunteer-team is appealing to the public for help in funding £1,500 to directly replace the bench – Mr Smith said any excess funding raised would go towards improved signage.

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