IT is feared an elm tree believed to be one of the oldest in the world may have been damaged beyond repair in a storm.

High winds in the early hours of Saturday morning blew down part of one of the Preston Twins elms in Preston Park, Brighton, leaving a huge branch of the centuries-old tree blocking a path.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s arboreal teams were dispatched yesterday morning to see whether the tree, which survived the 1987 hurricane and has been a symbol of the city’s natural heritage since Elizabethan times, could be salvaged.

Tree surgeons promised to “move heaven and earth” to save the tree, which was last pruned in 2013.

A council spokesman said: “A large section of one of our ‘Preston Twins’ elms fell down in the bad weather over the weekend.

“We are busy clearing up what has fallen, and will then need to do some extra pruning to make sure the tree is safe.

“Once this is done our tree experts will assess the condition of the tree and consider whether further action is needed.

“It’s a magnificent tree and we will do everything in our powers to try and make sure it can survive.”

Brighton and Hove is home to national collection of elm trees.

Sue Shepherd, of the Friends of Preston Park society, said: “We’re all very sad indeed that one of the ancient elm trees in Preston Park, known as the Preston Twins, has split and fallen.

“Many messages have been received by the Friends of Preston Park expressing distress, describing the event as a calamity.”

Others called for the fallen branches to be preserved and made into something lasting.

Mark Findlay said: “This is quite devastating news, that such an iconic tree, which should be one of the symbols of the city, has fallen.

“My partner and I are very upset to see it has fallen.

“We hope that part of the tree, which is still very much alive, can be saved.

“The fallen wood could also be made into benches for the park or some other permanent memento such as a work of art.”

Peter Bourne, national elm collection voluntary curator, said: “They’ve just started pruning back the tree, the tree is not going to be cut down, they’re going to keep as much as they can.

“Two large limbs fell off.

“They think the lower one fell off and then as the tree was rocked by the weight of that, the other fell off. There’s a big hole in one side now.”