FOREST workers have cut down a tourist attraction where men have been reported to meet for sexual encounters.
The Forestry Commission says it is carrying out major maintenance work to Rhododendron Mile in Puddletown Forest and that ‘anti-social behaviour’ in the bushes could be curbed by the works.
Swathes of the bushes have been chopped down and cleared between the forest and the road.
A brown tourist sign still points motorists towards the attraction, which was planted in the 1920s and is known for its colourful display of mauve flowers in late May or early June.
Rhododendron Mile is said to be listed on a website aimed at gay men ‘cruising’ for sex.
Inspector Les Fry, of Dorchester police, said: “We are aware of some community concerns about the activities of single men in that area.
“Puddletown Forest is an area that’s frequented by walkers, cyclists and people exercising their dogs.
“We’re meeting with the appropriate agencies to try and work out a long-term solution to the issues.
“People need to be reassured that this area is safe and there are no safety concerns.”
Libby Burke, of the Forestry Commission, said the bushes have been put in a manageable state.
She added: “The rhododendron is very over-grown. It proliferates and grows and it’s gone too far.
“There is anti-social behaviour going on there and it might help to alter that.”
Rhododendron Mile is part-owned by the commission and private owners.
The owners didn’t wish to comment to the Echo about the works.
Local residents said they were upset about the demise of Rhododendron Mile.
Vet Philippa Rodale, of the Weatherbury Vet Clinic in Puddletown, said: “It used to be glorious. People used to come up and see them in bus-loads and now they’ve stripped the whole lot out.
“The frustrating thing is that it’s been so badly maintained. A lot of villagers are up in arms about it.”
Leon Waterman, of the Pine Lodge farm and tearooms in Bockhampton, said: “They’ve had a lot of trouble with men meeting down there.
“Twenty years ago the flowers used to look quite spectacular but no one has wanted to look after it since.”
Tincleton resident Brian Mitchell said he was ‘horrified’ when he drove along Rhododendron Mile recently.
Steven Buck, chairman of Puddletown Area Parish Council, said: “The Forestry Commission decided the rhododendrons needed some work, but what has happened is that they’ve gone too far.
“There is not much we can do.”