WILDLIFE protestors have threatened to report Wiltshire Council to police after it felled trees in Warminster with birds nesting in them.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to disturb birds during the nesting season and the protestors claim the trees had rooks nesting in them.

They are also a foraging habitat for bats roosting in a nearby disused bungalow.

The protestors met on Saturday morning at Furnax Lane, Warminster, where the council is clearing land to extend a new highways salt depot.

Tim Hancock, of Sustainable Warminster, said: “We have reported the disturbance of nesting birds and the destruction of the habitat to Wiltshire Police and hope they will agree that this is a clear case for prosecution.

“Elsewhere in the UK environmental destruction has resulted in prosecutions under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

“Wiltshire Council haven’t been given planning permission for this site but they have gone ahead anyway.

“The planning process is a farce if the Council commission ecologists to recommend ways of protecting the environment but trash the site before the strategic planning committee can consider it.

“The same sort of destruction of trees and habitats before permission is granted happens over and over again.

“Developers are prepared to risk a fine because they know Wiltshire Council will never enforce it. On this occasion the council themselves are the offenders.”

Cllr Toby Sturgis, the council's cabinet member for spatial planning, development management and investment, said: “We have taken a considered and cautionary approach to protecting and enhancing wildlife in relation to the removal of these trees.

"If the planning application is approved, the proposed layout of the redeveloped site would include replacement trees and additional planting and will provide ecological enhancement that benefits biodiversity.”

The council said planning permission is not required for the felling of trees that are outside a conservation area.

It said no tree preservation orders were in place for any of the trees and officers had checked for nests before the work went ahead.

Wiltshire Council is clearing the land for a new salt depot to serve parts of central Wiltshire, including the A36, the A350 and the A303.

Harriet James, of Sustainable Warminster, said: “We have photographic evidence that birds were nesting in the trees when the trees were cut down. All the trees which had nests in them were cut down, leaving only a few which did not have nests in them."

“The tree report specifically said that nesting birds should not be disturbed between February and August.

“Prior to any arboricultural works or tree removals being carried out during the nesting season (February to August), trees should be thoroughly checked for nesting birds.

Birds and their nests and young are protected under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”

“Wiltshire Council appear to be in breach of environmental law on several counts. They have ignored the advice of their ecological and arboricultural consultants.”

Mrs James said the eight species of bats on the land, including horseshoe bats, are protected under Schedules 1 and 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

She added: “The ecological assessment and bat surveys for the Furnax Lane site identified the presence of eight species of bat including horseshoe bats.

“All bats are ‘species of principal importance’ and horseshoe bats are specially protected under the EU and UK law.

“The bats used the trees on site as foraging territory so Wiltshire Council have effectively destroyed their habitat.”

Mrs James says the council has breached national laws and planning policy framework covering the loss of biodiversity in the planning system.

Warminster Town Council’s Planning Advisory Committee also objected to the Furnax Lane application.

Cllr Rob Fryer proposed objection due to the construction being beyond the building line, loss of trees and habitat, possible contamination and that the development was not within the new Climate Change Policies.

Prior to the trees being destroyed, Cllr Pip Ridout had asked Cllr Andrew Davis to call in the application at Wiltshire Council Strategic Planning Committee.