A 200-YEAR-OLD tree at the centre of worship by druids and witches has been chopped down to size after it became diseased.

The 80ft beech at Winterbourne Abbas has been reduced to a 10-metre stump by English Heritage because of fears it would die and fall over.

The tree has become a dominant feature at the site, famous for the ancient stone circle standing beneath its branches.

Now the Dolmen Grove, a Weymouth-based druid group, will perform a 're- balancing' ritual in mourning for the loss of the tree and to mark a new beginning for their holy site.

The Arch Druid of the Dolmen Grove, antique-dealer Chris Walsh, will lead the peaceful service and hopes many of the sect's 250 witches, druids, shamans and pagans will attend.

He said: "The tree is part of the history of the area and it was a surprise when English Heritage told us it would have to be cut.

"Lots of local people as well as druids and witches come here and it will be a shock for them to see the tree now because it was such a focal point.

"Its big branches have certainly been useful to us when we have been out here in the rain.

"But I think that many trees have come and gone in the 3,000 to 4,000 years the stones have been here and we accept there has to be change and renewal in nature."

The Arch Druid said he and the Stag Lord would lead the re-balancing ritual in the next few weeks. He said: "We believe in the spirits of the land and we want to honour the tree by putting it in peace with the elements - a re-balancing of nature's forces.

"We cannot be certain but we believe that ancient people met and worshipped at the stones very much as we do today.

"We're very respectful of the land and anyone who visits the stones and we like to see them maintained."

Chris Bally, regional landscape manager for English Heritage said a number of local people had made complaints about the tree being cut.

Safety But he said English Heritage had acted in the interests of public safety and to protect the stones.

He said: "The tree is infected with the fungus Meripilus giganteus (also commonly known as Polypore) which causes decay to the underground roots of mature beech.

"Once the fungus is established, the tree loses support from its roots and will eventually blow over.

"We are very sad at having to lose the tree but due to the proximity of the A35, the tree had to be made safe before it fell."