FORESTRY Commission chiefs have moved to reassure people about the future of a Hampshire woodland after growing fears over tree felling operations.

Former tree surgeon William Patterson was worried after he noticed a dramatic increase in the number of trees earmarked for felling.

But the Forestry Commission say their tree felling operations at Stoke Park Wood, Bishopstoke, are part of their long term commitment to preserve the woodland which covers more than 220 acres.

Area manager Nick Hazlitt said: "Local people should not be alarmed by the thought of trees being cut down in Stoke Park Wood. The planned harvesting work is an element of our continual and ongoing forest management.

"The work is vital to maintain the health of the forest as it maintains the structure and diversity in the woodland, which is important for both people and wildlife."

Mr Patterson, 45, who lives in Eastleigh and has been visiting the woods for more than 40 years, said he has always been passionate about trees.

He fears that if the felling continues it will have a devastating impact on an area which has always been a haven for wildlife.

Mr Patterson took the Daily Echo into a wooded glade where many tree trunks had been marked with a circle of orange paint.

Pointing to one he said: "There is nothing wrong with this tree. It has got another 100 years left. Once these trees are gone they will be gone forever."

Mr Hazlitt added: "By cutting trees down, we allow light and air into the wood, important for plants, flowers butterflies and insects.

"We also make the wood a better place for the many local people who use the wood, as we can keep the paths and tracks and picnic sites clear, and allow people to see into the wood from the paths."

He said that this spring more than 7,000 oak trees were planted in an open area just off the main forest road. Last year more than 3,000 oak, ash and cherry trees were planted in another area of the woodland.