Wildlife concerns have been raised following tree felling at Hawley Woods.
Also known as Hawley Common, the site is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is owned by the MoD.
Last October, contractors started to thin some of the trees on the Minley side of the woods before working on the Hawley side – where they have been for the last two weeks.
The operation is part of a forest maintenance programme and takes place every five to 10 years.
Harry Wood, from Farnborough, walks through Hawley Woods most days.
He said: “The extensive forest operations in Hawley Woods, which in places are going beyond thinning planted pine trees to clear felling large areas of maturing forest, including old pine and chestnut, which are havens for wildlife such as woodpeckers. It seems to me that there does not seem to be any consideration for wildlife. Small animals and fungi will be devastated by the fallen trees.
“Cutting the trees down totally changes the forest area. It’s valuable for wildlife and some of the trees are around 70 to 100 years old.”
Hampshire Wildlife Trust has been scrub clearing on part of Yateley Common, just north of Hawley Wood, as part of their management agreement with the MoD for the area.
Blackwater’s Stuart Maslen raised concern that these works had been carried out during the wet weather.
He said: “Why burn timber in the middle of winter when we have had the wettest winter on record? The woods were covered in haze and fog and I found it difficult to breathe.
“I am disabled and the smoke affects my health plus there was a constant smell hanging in the air.
“Chipping instead of burning would be far better and better for the wildlife too.”
SSSIs are the country’s best wildlife and geological sites and there are around 4,000 of them in England. These habitats have developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing and forestry and need active management to maintain their conservation interest. Natural England works with separate owners and land managers to conserve these important sites.
Hawley Woods is owned by the MoD as part of its training area and all forestry operations are carried out by Landmarc Support Services.
Mark Neil, business development director at Landmarc, said: “We manage the estate for maintenance. We have not done any work to the woods for many years.
“All of the work has a forest conservation felling licence and has been approved. It is going to attract questions from members of the public.”
He said if the thick woodland is not maintained, the shrubs on the ground cannot grow. George Pete, regional head forester for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, said their five-yearly management programme involved thinning as part of natural regeneration.
“Trees that are in woodlands have to be managed like any other crop,” he said. “We allow people to come onto the land, but it is not managed for recreation. The land is owned for military training.
“The woodland management has always been approved by Natural England.”
He said there should have been posters around the site informing walkers about the tree works and was going to make a site visit to the woods this week. The thinning operation is expected to finish by the end of February before the breeding season begins.