CONTROVERSIAL work to axe trees in ancient woodland in Southampton has begun amid fears over the future of the site.

Some trees at Marlhill Copse have been fenced off as work to chop them down is now under way.

The news comes as last week civic chiefs at Southampton City Council approved plans to axe some of the trees on land owned by Southampton Airport.

Both the airport and the council said the work is urgent as the five trees pose a health and safety risk to residents and nearby properties.

As reported, campaigners hit out at the council as the decision was not taken in public although the proposals had sparked 50 objections.

Now that work is under way campaigners said they fear this marks the start of several planning applications to cut a few trees at a time.

Gareth Narbed, who has been at the forefront of a campaign against initial proposals to cut 27 trees at Marlhill Copse, said: “According to the tree survey report provided as part of the application there are 29 trees that they want to fell and my greatest fear is that once these works are completed they will start on the other 24.

"My fear is that there is going to be a rolling programme to fell at least all these 29 trees.”

But Southampton Airport stressed the work is necessary as the five trees present "a real and present risk to public health".

Addressing the concerns over the future of the site, a spokesperson for Southampton Airport also added: "In the summer, we will be publishing a Woodland Management plan.

"During its creation, we have consulted with residents and representatives of community and residents groups, specialists in tree and woodland management and other local key interest groups such as Friends Of Townhill Park House Gardens.

"As part of the discussions around that plan, we will determine where best to place ownership of the copse in the future and continue to do everything we can to return the copse to a beautiful and healthy woodland which can be enjoyed by the whole community.

"We also have an extensive replanting scheme, and will be replanting on a three-to-one ratio."

Last week city council leader Christopher Hammond said a full public consultation on the future of Marlhill Copse will be held in the summer.

Work on the five trees is expected to be completed on July 3.