Community groups have been left devastated by the theft of a plaque at a new viewing platform overlooking Fleet Pond.

The plaque commemorated Fleet Lions Club’s sponsorship of the platform, which recognises the 118-year association of the military with the pond, Hampshire’s largest freshwater lake.

The new platform, named Lions’ View, is on the eastern side of the pond and was funded by Fleet Lions to the tune of £12,000, designed and produced by Phill Gower and his team at Cove Industries and built by a large team of Fleet Pond Society volunteers.

Accessible to everyone with plenty of room for buggies, wheelchairs and mobility scooters, the platform now allows visitors to enjoy a view across the pond from an area that was not previously accessible.

The £12,000 was the largest single donation Fleet Lions has ever made and the largest single donation that Fleet Pond Society has ever received.

Fleet Pond Society vice-chairman Terry Austin said the plaque was designed by Rob Beckinsale who lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

“He carved it once we agreed his design,” said Mr Austin. “It cost around £800 and took about two weeks to carve.

“I think the thieves tried to take the complete thing, including the posts, but it was too heavy so the plaque was ripped from the posts.

“The posts were then pulled out of the ground separately but with the metal and concrete anchors were still too heavy so they were dumped.

“We were all sickened by this wanton act but are determined that we will replace the plaque with something to acknowledge the contribution of Fleet Lions towards this valuable asset for the public to enjoy.”

Fleet Lions Club president Julian Behmber said he could not believe it when I heard about the theft.

“It was one of the highlights of my year as president when I unveiled the lovely carving on Good Friday,” he added.

At the opening ceremony, Mr Behmber said the group saw the project as a perfect way to give something tangible back to the local community who had been unstintingly generous to them in their various fundraising efforts over the years.

Mike Collen, who organises Fleet Lions' working parties at the pond, was also shocked by the theft.

He said: “We were really honoured in the way the pond society marked our involvement in this exciting project. This mindless act has cast a real shadow”

The viewpoint has been built on the old embankment laid down by the army in the 19th century as a base for a very large jetty which stretched out into the pond to launch boat-based training exercises.

Fleet Pond Society chairman Colin Gray said he was thrilled when Fleet Lions agreed to fund the project as the viewpoint had been an idea of his for many years.

“We think it is important to recognise the historical significance of the 118 years ownership of this site by the military,” he added.

“By these efforts we have opened up a different viewpoint of the pond, as well as putting a large stable platform for the enjoyment of all members of the community.”