The Forestry Commission and police have launched an investigation into the felling of around 70 trees which has decimated an area of forest around a West Wight caravan park.
Heavy machinery moved onto the plot at Cranmore, where the Silver Glades Caravan Park is based, last Saturday (April 24) and started cutting down the trees, which are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The caravan park has a licence for 12 units, and it is believed the site was being cleared to make room for further units but no planning application has been made. Concerned residents contacted Peter Spink, who was an Isle of Wight Council candidate in Freshwater North and Yarmouth, as he had canvassed the area a couple of days previously.
Mr Spink said: “Residents called me because I had spoken to them a couple of days earlier and I have a huge interest in the protection of our forests.
“I went there on the Saturday around noon and spoke to the work force. Initially they said they could not contact the owner, but after a few minutes they did get him on the telephone and we had a chat.
“Basically, he told me it was his land and I was trespassing. He did agree not to continue with the work, but once I left, it started up again.
“It was horrific to see what they had done; it’s an AONB and I was appalled at the devastation there. There is a huge area cleared in the middle of the forest.
“The wildlife is all protected by laws but here he is knocking down the trees in the middle of spring at breeding time. I estimate around 70 trees, including many mature oaks, have been chopped down. It’s disgusting.
“They clearly want to expand the site so they are chopping first and asking permission later.
“We are asking for the trees to be replanted, not just a fine for the owner. This was all underhand; they turned up at a weekend when they knew no official would be around or contactable.”
A police spokesman confirmed: “We received a report on 26 April of a number of trees being cleared in the Cranmore area.
“Police are working alongside the Forestry Commission and the local authority to establish if any offences have been committed, and enquiries remain ongoing.”
A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “We take the protection of trees and woodlands extremely seriously, and won’t hesitate to investigate any allegations of illegal tree felling.”
IW Council were also contacted and said: “We can confirm the trees are within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), on private land and do not benefit from Tree Protection Orders (TPOs) or conservation area protection.
“It is not known who did the work; however, depending on the amount of wood removed, they may have had to apply for a felling licence from Forestry England.
“Given the age of the trees it is also probable they housed protected habitats such as birds, bats and, potentially, squirrels which may have been disturbed. Such disturbance could be contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
“Neither of these are within the Isle of Wight Council’s jurisdiction and it understands that the Island’s Forestry Commission officer and the Police Wildlife and Countryside liaison officer have been notified of the situation.”
The IW Observer attempted to contact the registered owner of the site, Linda Cooper without success.