TWELVE oak trees were illegally felled at a New Forest site, and the national park authority has taken out a High Court injunction to save more from the axe.
The NPA took action to prevent further destruction after it discovered the trees had been brought down at an area in Bartley between Eadens and Tatchbury lanes, south of the A336.
The land is subject to a long-standing tree preservation order (TPO) which prevents anyone cutting down or harming designated trees or woodland.
An investigation into the felling is ongoing, but those found guilty of such offences face a fine of up to £20,000, and may be required to replace the trees.
An NPA spokesperson said: “Our investigation is still ongoing, and depending on the outcome we will consider whether or not to take further action.”
The broadleaved deciduous woodland area is also classified as a priority habitat, and the NPA said badgers, hedgehogs, at least six types of bat and more than 25 protected bird species are found there.
NPA member Leo Randall, chair of its planning committee, said: “The special landscape of the national park has the highest level of protection and this High Court injunction illustrates that where appropriate we will take decisive measures in respect of any threats to the landscape.
“Our broadleaved habitats have been identified as being the most threatened, requiring urgent conservation measures under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.”
He added: “The developers in this case ignored or were unaware of the tree preservation order in place.
“Unless restrained by an injunction order, they could well have caused further significant irreversible environmental damage to the New Forest.”
An NPA spokesperson told the A&T the unauthorised felling took place in early December, leaving large fractures and splits in the remaining tree trunks.
Several other oaks had been marked with an X, suggesting that they were also going to be chopped down.
The spokesperson added: “It appears likely that the trees were felled to provide access to adjoining land within ‘Terry’s Patch’, which includes a larger open field.
“The NPA recently raised concerns about this land being divided into separate plots with different ownership, issuing an immediate Article 4 direction to remove permitted development rights to put up fencing.
“This direction, which has not yet been confirmed by the NPA’s planning committee, was intended to ensure the boundaries between plots were sympathetic to this important New Forest conservation area by requiring express planning consent for fencing.”
Signage placed by the NPA at the site about the Article 4 direction was removed three times, said the NPA, each time being replaced. It also said building materials and equipment were brought into the woodland.