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Manhunt launched to find mystery lumberjacks illegally hacking down protected trees in Noak Hill

PUBLISHED: 17:19 16 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:19 16 August 2019

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

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Havering Council is on the hunt for a mysterious person or persons unknown who have begun illegally cutting down trees in a secluded forest area in Noak Hill.

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

The group of trees at the northernmost end of Benskins Lane date back to at least the 1940s, and run all the way through to Stapleford Abbotts Golf Course on the other side.

But this week, residents began noticing a group of men in the woodland cutting down those same trees - despite a Tree Protection Order being put in place to prevent any such activity occurring.

Residents informed the council and an enforcement team with a police escort was sent to the area, but the outlaw lumberjacks had fled the scene.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed: "On the morning of Thursday, August 15, officers attended Benskins Lane in Romford along with representatives from the council."

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

When a Recorder reporter visited the scene on Friday morning, a police van and a number of officers were still in attendance.

Signs have also been erected warning whoever is cutting down the trees that they will face prosecution if they are caught.

The posters read: "This notice is to advise the person or persons cutting down trees that are subject to Tree Protection Orders in the area north of Westwood Park, Benskins Lane.

"It is a criminal offence to cut down trees that are subject to Tree Protection Orders and the council will not hesitate to instigate prosecution proceedings against all persons."

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

The notice goes on to inform the tree fellers that upon prosecution they would face fines of up to £20,000 per tree.

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It also states that the site will now be monitored 24 hours a day.

The area, also known as Curtis Plantation, is marked in the Havering Local Plan as a site of special boroughwide importance for biodiversity and geodiversity.

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

Councillor Damian White, leader of Havering Council, said: "Our planning enforcement officers attended the site with the police as soon as this had been reported to us and we applied for an injunction order in a bid to prevent further tree felling.

"Investigations are currently ongoing as to who the offenders are, but we want to catch them as soon as possible.

"Whoever is cutting down these trees is acting against the law, this woodland is under a Tree Protection Order.

"The council will always do whatever it can to protect its green spaces and is very proud of being one of the greenest boroughs."

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

Residents nearby told the Recorder they feared the tree choppers had been trying to clear access for a group of traveller caravans to illegally enter the grounds around Curtis Plantation and set up camp.

One of them, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Recorder: "They like to move in over bank holiday weekends while all the council workers are off.

"It looks to me like they thought they'd come down here, chop down as many trees as they needed to to gain access, maybe as far as the golf course, and then there would be no getting rid of them.

"Before you know it we'd have the next Dale Farm down here in Havering."

The trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt ClemensonThe trees on Curtis Plantation, just off Benskins Lane in Noak Hill, have been felled illegally this week. Pictures: Matt Clemenson

Residents can call the police on 101 or email planning_enforcement@havering.gov.uk if they have any information and all information received will be treated as confidential.

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