A CONSERVATION organisation has been accused of axing hundreds of trees at St Catherine’s Hill at Christchurch.

Tuckton resident and regular St Catherine’s Hill dog walker Pauline Griggs said: “They have literally changed the landscape.

“I think it’s outrageous. Bonfires are lit and I’ve been in touch with the fire service. They light them on the paths where people are walking.”

Ed Weaver, of Hillside Drive, said: “It’s absolutely grotesque up there.

“Up on the ridge they have taken so many trees away it’s totally exposed.

“There’s going to be a landslip up there soon,” she claimed.

She said early morning dog walkers found hot embers in the bonfires which posed a fire risk, and the work was creating swampy areas and puddles.

“They just go along cutting trees down. But they are fanatical.

“All they can think about is creating an environment for snakes and lizards,” she said.

“But it’s our habitat as well, you know.”

Herpetological Conservation Trust spokesman Helen Wraight said: “It’s designated an SSSI because of its rare species and we manage the site for that.

“If we let the site become overgrown with trees, it loses its designation.

“All the work being carried out on the common is being done under licence.”

She added: “We have to do the work at this time of year because the animals are hibernating.”

Colleague Gary Powell said invasive non-native strawberry trees were being removed and “two or three hectares” of pines had also been felled.

The hill is home to the rare and “strictly protected” sand lizard, which means its habitat has to be preserved.

Other reptiles designated “protected” there are: smooth snakes, common lizards, slow-worms, adders, frogs, toads and newts.

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