Public authorities have reassured angry residents that yew trees at Bignor Hill were felled for ‘ecological and archaeological interest’.
This comes after a group of Sutton residents claimed that the loss of more than 40 yew trees had ruined ‘a magical place’ and were removed with ‘no prior consultation’.
The Forestry Commission, which sets out to protect, improve and expand woodlands, said it had received a licence application from the National Trust to fell 42 yew trees at Bignor Hill.
The Forestry Commission’s partnership and expertise manager for the south east, Matthew Woodcock, said: “The application requested to remove the yew trees from a scheduled ancient monument and to facilitate on-going grazing.”
Mr Woodcock explained that the yew trees’ roots were in danger of ‘ripping up’ the neighbouring scheduled ancient monument, which has legal protection by English Heritage.
A spokesperson for South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) said: “Over half of the trees felled were threatening one of the best surviving sections of the ancient Roman Road in Stane Street.”
It was also claimed by Mr Woodcock that the site was cleared for animal grazing to improve the ‘chalk down and floral’.
He said: “Yew trees are poisonous to animals, so they had to be removed, but not all of them, some are being fenced within the closure so they’re excluded from grazing.”
The SDNPA representative said: “This move will allow rare plants and animals such as glow worms, marbled white butterflies, viper’s bugloss and yellow rattle to thrive here in the future.”
A Sutton Parish Council meeting was held on July 10 when representatives from the Nation Trust and South Downs National Park Authority explained the rationale behind the decision.
But residents claimed that public notices informing people of the felling of 42 trees were hard to find.
The SDNPA representative said: “The work was carried out with the full consent and approval of English Heritage, the Forestry Commission, Natural England and Defra with the knowledge and support of West Sussex County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority.
“Every yew was thoroughly inspected by a specialist to confirm that no bats were present.”
The County Times contacted the National Trust for comment, but no response was received before going to press.