A CONTRACTOR who chopped down four protected trees has been fined more than £4,000.

Alan Hunt, 45, of Weavers Lane, Hungerford, appeared at Basingstoke Magistrates Court on Thursday (May 23) having pleaded guilty to wilfully destroying a protected tree.

The court heard how Hunt had felled four protected oak trees in ancient woodland in North End, East Woodhay.

The incident had come to the attention of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council after a resident alerted its tree officers on April 17, 2018.

The trees were on the site of Broadmead Barn, where a planning application had been granted to convert a barn into a home.

Following an investigation, borough council tree officers established that out of a total of eight trees felled, four were protected by a tree preservation order.

In court, Hunt apologised and accepted responsibility, confirming that he was fully aware of the process and should have checked the status of the trees.

Hunt was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £300 victim surcharge and £1309.55 costs.

After the hearing cabinet member for environment and enforcement at the borough council, Councillor Hayley Eachus said: “Trees make a vital contribution to our borough and it is completely unacceptable to chop down those that we have identified as being important, perhaps because of their age or their prominence in the landscape.

“We provide legal protection for these trees by making a tree preservation order and this makes it a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy a protected tree without the written consent of the local authority.

“We treat any breach of a tree preservation order very seriously, and anyone convicted could be fined up to £20,000 in the magistrates’ court.”

If anyone is unsure whether a tree is protected by a tree preservation order or by a conservation area, you can check on the borough council’s website by visiting basingstoke.gov.uk/protectedtrees.