ANIMALS are set to benefit from a "senseless" act of vandalism in which a tree at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton, was felled with a chainsaw.

The branches of the Hornbeam tree have been collected by Marwell Zoo staff, who will feed the leaves to giraffes and smaller creatures called okapi - also known as the forest giraffe.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the tree was targeted last Sunday at around 10.20pm and narrowly missed graves as it toppled over.

Daily Echo:

Cllr Steve Leggett, the city council's cabinet member for green city and environment, said: “This planned act of vandalism has shocked not just the council but the local community.

"We want to thank everyone who has already contacted us with information. We are working with the police and have passed on the details we have been given."

Cllr Leggett said the authority had been touched by the "outpouring of support" on social media.

He added: "Marwell Zoo contacted us after seeing our social media posts as they can put the tree to good use. Hornbeam leaves are a favourite of their okapi family, who will share the tree with their larger giraffe friends.

Daily Echo:

"One of the five themes in our Green City Plan is to protect and enhance the natural environment.

"The Plan details our commitment to replacing trees on a 1:2 basis and our target of planting 5,000 native trees on council land by 2030.

"We will replace this magnificent tree with two suitable alternatives in the planting season in October, our team are already reviewing suitable locations in the city.”

The vandalism has sparked outrage on social media, with critics describing it as "senseless" and "mindless".

Southampton Crematorium and Cemeteries posted: "It's heartwarming to know that so many of you care about our city's much-loved cemeteries and their natural environment.

"We are obviously still very shocked and saddened by this crime and have passed all information to the police for further investigation.

"A craftsman from the New Forest will be making a bench out of the tree. It will be placed where the Hornbeam once stood."

Anyone with information about the vandalism can call Hampshire police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44200176294.