THIEVES have struck at a Southampton special school for the third time.

Gardening and construction equipment valued at nearly £1,500 has been taken from Great Oaks School’s horticultural centre in Millbrook in three separate raids.

They broke into the school’s shed at Down to Earth Farm in March and took gardening equipment, shamelessly coming back a second time the following day to remove power tools that were bolted down.

Two months later the school’s home-made geodesic dome – a mini Eden Project – was broken into, with burglars stealing bedding plants and removing a young cherry tree, which was being used to teach students about aphids – before dumping it at the gates.

The vandals trampled over raised beds, spoiling garlic plants and stealing plants that were due to be sold at the school’s café in Netley.

Teaching assistant John Wale said: “We created a beautiful environment where students learn skills for life as well as the beauty of nature. And it’s all been done on a shoe string. We are all heartbroken.”

The geodesic dome was being used to grow plants and to house a butterfly colony. Mr Wale said: “Now the danger is that if we release them the birds will come and feed on the existing caterpillar population in the garden instead of just our colony.”

The site in Green Lane has a new garden classroom which was opened in September for students aged 16 to 19 to learn how to set up a market garden enterprise. It is also used by younger pupils and has specially built so that wheelchairs users can also access the potting table to pot and plant.

Teacher Anne-Marie Wright said: “The little ones come in and buddy up – so they’re learning from each other – sharing skills and the teaching facility. Up to 20 children use it at a time and we have another 15 coming in September.

“Pupils with learning difficulties use the site for life and vocational skills, horticulture, construction, animal care, and work experience.

“It gives them the opportunity to develop their learning skills to give them a chance of employment later in life. I want people to know what we’re trying to do and that their petty theft has such an impact.

“It affects morale and stops the learning of these incredible people.”

A spokesman from Hampshire police said that a forensics team visited the site in March but no arrests had been made.

Officers are also planning to visit the site after the latest break-in to give crime prevention advice.