SIX thousand trees have been cut down at a beauty spot on the outskirts of Darwen after a health and safety survey.

A 12-hectare site beside the A666 near the Green Arms Road junction has been cleared in the last month by United Utilities.

And police and councillors said the felling programme would have the added benefit of discouraging strangers from meeting up for sex at the known 'dogging' hotspot.

To minimise the impact on the local wildlife, park rangers carried out the felling outside the bird breeding season.

And wildlife from the 20-metre strip where the tree felling took place would move to the wood behind, the firm said.

United Utilities stressed that those cut down were commercial trees.

A spokesman for United Utilities said: “They were old and at risk of falling into the road causing an accident.

“Following a health and safety survey, a license was applied for and granted through the Forestry Commission to fell them.

“We are re-planting the area with natural broad leaf trees."

Sergeant Mark Wilson of Darwen Neighbourhood Policing team, said the tree felling would help reduce incidents of 'dogging'.

He said: “It’s an on-going problem and very worrying for members of the public.

“It’s far too early to tell if cutting the trees back has had any impact on the dogging situation, but we’ll be paying regular attention to the area.”

Ward councillor Jean Rigby, who is also chair of the West Pennine Moors area management committee, said the trees were planted after the Second World War.

She said: "The area will be replanted with native species that in 20 years, people will see the benefit of.

“I’m more than happy that this management is being carried out, and it has a double whammy in terms of the sexual behaviour.

“I’ve heard anecdotally that since the trees have been cleared, it’s quietened down a lot.”

Coun Colin Rigby said: “It’s essential work that United Utilities are carrying out, and cutting the trees back also works as a deterrent to people who go dogging.”

But Terry Hardman, who owns an engineering company in Darwen, and travels past the clearance site every day, said the work had 'absolutely devastated the area'.

“There was a massive forest that’s just been reduced to open space. Surely that can’t be good for the environmental situation?", he said.

Brian Jackson of Friends of the Earth, said: “To remove thousands and thousands of mature trees is absurd.

“The conifer trees in this area are very valuable in providing windbreaks and attracting rainfall to the area."