A LANDOWNER has sparked outrage after ‘illegally’ felling 70 trees.

It is believed the trees, which lined the path to Darwen Tower off Belgrave Road, were cut down by a contractor on the landowner’s behalf.

Former assistant executive member for environment Cllr Jane Oates said she was contacted by ‘heartbroken’ residents who discovered the felled trees.

She said: “It’s shocking what they have done. The residents got in touch with me when they discovered what had been done and from there the Forestry Commission got involved.

“It’s just a shame we didn’t find out before it got to this stage. The landowner did not apply for a licence so we didn’t know it was going on.”

A council spokesman said there was no tree preservation order in place because no planning application had been lodged, meaning the landowner was free to fell trees.

However, according to the Forestry Commission, a licence is required to fell an area of more than five cubic metres in a calendar quarter.

A council spokesman said the Forestry Commission has evaluated the site and confirmed that the amount of timber removed was over any of the licence exemption limits and they have submitted a report to the commission confirming the details.

Cllr Oates said there will be ‘serious repercussions’ for the landowner and the company that undertook the felling. She said: “It’s very sad. It’s such a beautiful area and they are old trees that have been there for years. It’s really upsetting.

“The Forestry Commission is looking into it at the moment and how they are going to deal with it because the people who felled them did it without a licence.

“I’m not sure who owns the land because people involved have claimed they sold the land before the trees were cut down.

“They will be looking into prosecuting the landowner and the company who did it because they did not seek permission.

“There will definitely be serious repercussions for it though.”

Darwen Town Cllr Paul Browne described the felling as ‘disgusting’ and called for the landowners to be prosecuted.

He said: “I hope the law goes down on them hard. They should be fined very heavily.

“I am a tree lover. I would not chop a tree down anywhere. They want to clamp down on this kind of behaviour because it is totally unacceptable.”

A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “Individuals are required to apply for a felling licence from us before felling trees. Felling without a licence may result in prosecution and/or the serving of a re-stocking notice. Non-compliance may result in a second prosecution.

“There are some exemptions for felling licences, notably small diameter trees, those standing in certain locations (including gardens) and when full planning permission has been granted for a site which authorises tree-felling.”