THIEVES have chopped down and stole memorial trees planted in memory of loved ones.

The thieves struck at the Memorial Arboretum and Pinetum at Rivington, lopping two Noble Firs — which can be used as Christmas trees — despite plaques being placed alongside them.

One of the families affected spoke out as Hazel Gannaway, a United Utilities ranger, labelled the thieves as “the lowest of the low”.

She added: “This is a sickening act of vandalism and especially at this time of year.

“Stealing trees is bad enough, but to target trees with such a special meaning is the lowest of the low.

“These trees have commemorative plaques so it would have been quite obvious to the thieves what they were doing.

“We have been in touch with one of the families to break the bad news to them, but we are struggling to contact the other family who may have moved since the tree was planted.”

One of the stolen trees, which stood 6ft high, had been planted in memory of Monica Varey’s father, Alfred Cook, who died in 2001, aged 86, from heart failure.

Mrs Varey, aged 58, who lives in Horwich, said: “Some people have no morals — how could anyone do something like this?

“What really upsets me is this tree will be in someone’s house for a few weeks over Christmas and then it will be thrown out with the rest of the rubbish, all for the sake of saving £20 or £30 .It makes you sick.”

Mr Cook was from Birmingham but Mrs Varey decided to scatter his ashes and plant the tree in his memory at Rivington because he liked the outdoors.

When her mother, Cecielia, died in 2005, aged 89, her ashes were scattered at the same place.

Mrs Varey said she will plant another tree to replace the stolen one, but it will not be a fir tree.

The other tree targeted was between 10 and 12ft high. The thieves chopped off the top half.

The memorial woodlands are managed by water company United Utilities, which owns and maintains the Rivington reservoirs and surrounding estate.

The thefts have been reported to the police, who are investigating.

United Utilities is urging anyone who notices any suspicious activity to report it.