CAMPAIGNERS have won the latest round of their fight to save 91 trees on land owned by Southampton Airport.

A planning inspector has dismissed an appeal lodged by the airport after an application relating to Marlhill Copse was rejected by the city council.

But environmentalists are warning that new battles could lie ahead.

The inspector, Melvyn Middleton, said replacing some of the existing trees with smaller ones would fail to maintain the woodland character of the area.

He added: "A hillside devoid of significant vegetation is likely to exist for a number of years until the new trees become established.

Daily Echo: Campaigners have won the latest round of their battle to save 91 trees at Marlhill CopseCampaigners have won the latest round of their battle to save 91 trees at Marlhill Copse (Image: Martini archive)

"If the proposal was to be implemented the character of the woodland would be fundamentally changed.

"Its initial appearance to users would be the poorer and detrimental to their experience of walking through woodland as well as their overall wellbeing."

READ MORE: Marlhill Copse tree-felling plan examined at planning appeal hearing

The inspector said the existing trees were clearly visible from a number of vantage points in the city and formed part of a landmark.

He added: "Any reasons given to justify the proposed works need to be compelling."

Daily Echo: Marlhill Copse has been the scene of several protests by environmental groupsMarlhill Copse has been the scene of several protests by environmental groups (Image: Newsquest.)

However, the inspector said most of the trees were in a poor condition and acknowledged that the area would benefit from substantial clearance.

He suggested that the airport could achieve its goal in the long term without removing almost all the vegetation at the same time.

READ MORE: Plan to fell trees at Marlhill Copse rejected by Southampton City Council

"It seems to me that the appropriate way forward would be for the appellant to submit a new proposal," he said.

Marlhill Copse is a 16-acre of ancient deciduous woodland that is separated from the airport by the M27 motorway.

Daily Echo: Some of the campaigners who attended a hearing at which the appeal was examinedSome of the campaigners who attended a hearing at which the appeal was examined (Image: Lyn Brayshaw)

Airport bosses said the proposed felling amounted to good forestry but the scheme was contested by Airport Expansion Opposition Southampton (AXO), which has also fought plans to extend the runway.

AXO welcomed the result of the appeal but added: "Sadly this is almost certainly not the end of this matter."

City councillor John Savage attended the appeal hearing, which was held at the Ageas Bowl last month.

He said: "I would like to thank all the residents who contributed to the hearing and to the campaign to retain these trees.

"It was a really tough fight, working with the council officers, representing the interests of residents and the special nature of the copse, against the airport's seven-person legal team.

"I felt we were seen as very much the underdogs at the hearing and we were far from certain of a successful outcome.

"I think we were all expecting a longer wait for a decision but I am absolutely delighted at this brilliant result.

"It shows what local councillors and officers can do when working with and supporting local residents."

An airport spokesman said: "We are disappointed by the decision regarding our woodland management plan.

"As stewards of Marlhill Copse, Southampton Airport has worked with the local community to preserve and enhance the woodland's special character, accessibility and biodiversity.

READ MORE: Southampton Airport set to make a loss - but runway extension 'will make it viable'

"Following the inspector's decision we will consider our next steps to ensure the trees within the copse are well managed."

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