Acres of ancient woodland within the South Downs National Park have been destroyed after masses of trees were illegally felled.
The destruction at Pondtail Wood, Poynings, has shocked local residents, conservationists and local councillors.
Dr Tony Whitbread, chief executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and an expert in ancient woodland habitats, said: “This ancient woodland site has been essentially destroyed. It’s a devastating loss. It’s an irreplaceable asset.”
Dr Whitbread first learned of the destruction of the wood last week and immediately contacted the South Downs National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission to get a ‘stop’ order put on the tree felling.
But the felling has continued and a large amount of aggregate has been brought onto the site.
Now, said Dr Whitbread: “Enforcement action needs to be taken to make the landowner restore the wood, or the local authority do the work and send him the bill.”
A local resident said that the destruction of the trees began about two months ago. “They have felled virtually the whole wood and burned it on site,” she said.
A spokesperson for the South Downs National Park Authority said: “We appreciate that this breach in planning control is frustrating for local people and have assured them that we take this matter very seriously and are working hard to resolve these issues as soon as possible while following correct legal procedure.
“We are working with Mid-Sussex District Council and other organisations to do everything within our powers to investigate and resolve it.
“The Forestry Commission are investigating the felling and burning of the trees, the Environment Agency is pursuing the importation of waste and the burning of trees from an environmental perspective and we have issued a Temporary Stop Notice and are taking legal advice about our next actions.”
A Forestry Commission spokesperson said: “A woodland officer has visited the site and we are investigating whether there has been breach of the Forestry Act in the form of exceeding the quantity of timber which may be felled without a felling licence.”