FIVE tonnes of ancient wood have been raised from the depths off Poole in the single biggest marine archaeological lifting operation since the Mary Rose in the 1980s.

This complicated task raised sections of bow from the 17th century Swash Channel wreck, which after preservation will be displayed in Poole.

The successful operation marked the launch of a £392,125 Daily Echo-backed appeal to carry out the necessary work and put on display Poole’s version of Henry VIII’s warship, which is in Portsmouth.

“Swash is one of the most important shipwrecks in the British Isles,” said Dave Parham, senior lecturer in archaeology at Bournemouth University, who is running the marine project.

“Conservation of the timbers is crucial to their survival,” he said.

Around 40 per cent of the 40m long ship has survived on the seabed in the approaches to Poole Harbour.

Archaeological treasures have been raised from the wreck since diving on it began in 2006.

Earlier this year maritime archaeologists from BU, funded by English Heritage and Poole Harbour Commissioners, prepared the underwater scene.

They carefully loaded the precious bowcastle timbers onto specially built steel frames, weighing about a tonne each.

Jenkins Marine of Poole provided their flatbed barge Doreen Dorward and divers from Commercial and Diving Specialised Services went down to prepare the lift and attach the crane chains to the massive frames.

When the signal was given from one of the divers, the decks were cleared of people and the timbers, not seen on the surface for 400 years, were lifted clear, amid cheering from the crew.

“We are pleased to support this project and the attempt to try to preserve Poole’s history,” said Dan Jenkins of Jenkins Marine. “We are looking forward to seeing what else comes up from the site.”

The true identity of the wreck is still a mystery but it is believed to have been a Dutch armed merchantman, dating to about 1630.

It was decorated with a number of wooden carvings, the oldest example of these known in the UK and among the oldest in the world.

The largest of these is a human head that adorns the head of the ship’s rudder, an eight metre long, 2.5 tonne structure.

Last summer archaeologists found three more stunning carvings, similar in style to those found on the Swedish shipwreck Vasa. Evidence so far points to it being involved in international trade, most likely the tropics.

This marks the beginning of north-western European exploitation of connections developed during the voyages of discovery of the 16th century.

These newly raised timbers were driven to Newport, Wales where they will be conserved by scientists.

It is intended they will be joined by more, including the rudder, over the summer as the lifting operation continues.