A WARNING notice has gone up to protect one of Torbay's oldest trees after it was damaged by dogs.
The 450-year-old oak on Torre Abbey Meadows has had bark torn from its trunk and branches.
Similar incidents last year at other parks in Torquay were linked to dog fighting.
The latest act of alleged criminal damage is even more serious because of the tree's long life and association with the history of the meadow.
Torbay Council says if the animal's owners are identified, they will be prosecuted.
A council spokesman said: "Dog damage has occurred to one of the most important trees in Torbay and it is criminal damage for which the dog owner, if identified, would be prosecuted.
"This is also an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act as the tree is within the Belgrave Conservation Area.
"Regrettably, we had similar incidents last year involving trees in Cary Park and Hollicombe Park, where we also put up warning signs."
Thugs training their dogs to fight were blamed for the incidents last year.
Allowing dogs to bite and swing from branches is known to be a way of training dogs to fight.
The problem has been reported in other parts of the country but not specifically linked to Torbay.
The tree in Torre Abbey Meadows has been an ever-present for more than four centuries.
It is protected by fencing which should deter people from damaging it.
The council spokesman added: "We take the protection of trees around the Bay very seriously. If anyone sees an incident of a person allowing the dog to damage a tree we would ask them to contact our natural environment services team as soon as possible on 01803 207977 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, providing as much information as they can.
"A criminal damage report on the incident in Torre Abbey Meadows has been filed with the police."