THE chopping down of scores of trees in a Hampshire wood has angered local people.

Men with chainsaws have spent several days cutting down mature trees at Woodside Caravan Park just off the A32 at West Tisted, near Ropley.

Neighbours say the authorities have been alerted but nothing has been done to stop the destruction of around 20 acres.

But this afternoon the Forestry Commission said it had launched an investigation into the felling.

One protester said the new owner of the site was asked to stop but has carried on cutting down the trees.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said the felling started on Saturday: "The trees were felled over a public footpath which was not closed. When I confronted them for access and said you need a licence they threatened me by waving a chainsaw, saying this was their licence." The chainsaw was switched off at the time.

"I have phoned the Health and Safety Executive, Police, Forestry Commission, East Hampshire planning authority and South Downs National Park planning authority. The response so far has been shocking with more destruction happening daily. The only people trying to help are the highways council contact and the parish council and local community. They cut a ladies fence with horses in the field to get access and they flattened another lades electric fence where she had runner ducks. I am devastated.

"I just took a walk along the footpath now and it is like a war scene and someone blew it all up."

It was unclear if any action has been taken.

A recent planning appeal over lawful existing use was settled but it is unclear whether the felling has breached planning rules.

West Tisted Parish Council has asked for information from the district council.

A Forestry Commission spokesperson said today: "We take protecting all trees and woodlands extremely seriously and won’t hesitate to investigate any allegations of illegal tree felling. If there’s no felling licence or other valid permission in place, or if the wrong trees are felled, anyone involved can be prosecuted.

"We are aware of reports of alleged illegal felling near Monkwood and have opened an investigation into these allegations. As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot offer any further comment."

The wood clearance follows something similar at Scoreys Copse at Horton Heath near Eastleigh in April which was widely condemned.

Before anyone can cut down trees, they may need to get a felling licence from the Forestry Commission; depending on whether an exemption to the need for a licence applies.

In addition to a felling licence, other permissions to fell the trees may also be required. Further details can be found at:

Felling trees without the authority of a required licence, currently carries a penalty upon conviction in a Magistrates Court of £2,500 or twice the value of the timber felled. Provisions within the Environment Bill which is currently before Parliament, will increase this penalty to an unlimited fine, set at the discretion of the court.

The Forestry Commission can serve a restocking notice upon the individual responsible, ordering them to plant trees.

As spokesman for East Hampshire District Council said: "I can tell you that our arboricultural team were not consulted as part of the planning process and they have not had any involvement in the sit before last week when it was brought to our attention. The trees were not subject to a Tree Protection Order."

In a statement the South Downs National Park said: "We’re aware that a number of trees have been removed at this location.

"East Hampshire District Council tree officers, acting on behalf of the South Downs National Park Authority, were notified of the tree removal and promptly carried out an assessment at the site. An initial assessment concluded that none of the trees had statutory protection in terms of planning enforcement (either from a Tree Preservation Order or being in a Conservation Area).

"The tree removal is now under investigation by the Forestry Commission and has also been reported to the police’s wildlife crime unit. We are awaiting the outcome of these inquiries."