A deadline for action has been placed on the owners of an ancient woodland site where acres of trees have been illegally felled and burnt.
A wave of public anger erupted when the destruction was first discovered at Pondtail Wood at Albourne.
Furious villagers joined with conservationists and local councillors to form a Save Pondtail Wood action group.
As well as the woodland destruction, a large amount of rubble and hardcore had been brought onto the site.
Last month the South Downs National Park Authority issued the landowners with ‘Stop’ and Enforcement notices requiring the immediate halting of engineering works at the woodland site, along with halting of the deposit of waste.
Now the South Downs National Park Authority has secured agreement from the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission to lead a coordinated response to restore Pondtail Wood. And the landowners have been given a deadline to restore the site by August 23 - or face prosecution.
Margaret Paren, chairman of the South Downs National Park Authority, said that the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission, along with the national park authority and Mid Sussex District Council, had “key roles to play in fixing this situation but we need to make sure that action is taken and that the local community are kept informed.
“Our Enforcement Notice stipulates that the site owners must remove all deposited soils, waste and drainage channels in order to expose the ancient woodland soils which can then support the return of native species.
“Wherever possible we try to work with site owners to fix breaches in planning, however if the work isn’t carried out by the 23 August deadline we will certainly consider prosecution.”
She said that the authority appreciated that the local community were “as frustrated as we are with the damage to the site.”
Furious villagers have already said that the woodland spot had been turned into a ‘waste dump.’
It had previusly been properly managed for centuries and was replanted with pine and spruce trees 50 years ago - much of them now bulldozed and burnt - and the ground covered in hardcore.
The South Downs National Park Authority has promised to provide the public with regular updates on progress on the site.