A HAMPSHIRE airport has started work to cut down trees in an area of ancient woodland.

Southampton Airport began "tree management activities" at Marhill Copse on Tuesday.

According to the airport, the work was recommended following advice from a chartered tree specialist.

The airport bought the copse last year to undertake work required under European air safety laws.

However, within the past week, the airport claims to have received advice that some of the trees are unsafe and a risk to the public,

The copse was therefore closed to the public on Tuesday to "protect members of the local community".

Work to remove fallen tree branches and shrubs at ground level has started ahead of tree management work being carried out as soon as possible.

However, the airport's actions have been slammed by Southampton resident and environmental campaigner, Gareth Narbed.

Gareth said: "It would be illegal for the airport to do any work on living trees in Marlhill Copse protected by tree preservation orders or those that come under its conservation area status.

"They are required to apply for any such works to Southampton City Council.

"This immediate work proposed does not come under aerodrome safeguarding.

"The use of the airport's aerodrome safeguarding webpage to give information on public "safeguarding" is wilfully misleading as the two things have totally different underlying meanings.

"This exercise is likely to be part of the airport's softening up of local residents in readiness for the cutting down of trees necessary for the expansion of the airport, which requires more heavily laden-large jets being able to take off with reduced height over Marlhill Copse."

Head of aerodrome, Dan Townsend, said: “The ancient woodland has not been managed for many years and as part of our new ownership we undertook a number of surveys to understand the current condition of the trees as well as the ecological makeup of the woodland in terms of the presence of any protected species. These reports have now been completed.

“We commissioned a qualified chartered arboriculturist to report on any concerns he had with tree health and the presence of any dangerous, diseased or dying trees.

“Our priority is to make the woodland safe for the public; we will also be improving pathways and planting more trees with the plan to reopen it to the community by Spring 2020."