ORGANISERS behind a scheme to remove hundreds of mature trees from a picturesque common have forced residents to set up a protection society.

They fear a mass felling of trees at Littleworth Common, near Burnham Beeches, will turn the area into a barren wasteland.

But the project, part of a programme by South Bucks District Council (SBDC) to return the area of Special Scientific Interest to heathland, has the backing of some environmentalists.

Publicans, Rob and Marianne Hancox, moved into their pub, The Jolly Woodman, on the common last August.

Mr Hancox, a retired butcher, said: "We feel very strongly about it. It was not what we were led to believe. We believed the ten year plan to be a cull on the dead trees leaving a ten metre perimeter around the outside so we wouldn't get anyone driving in and fly-tipping. That's what they are doing now."

He added: "I've likened it to Vietnam - it looks like there has been napalm in the area."

Mr Hancox has joined a society which has been set up to try to protect the area, collecting 600 signatures in a petition against the action.

Spokesman for SBDC, Kate Murray, said the council and English Nature (now Natural England) signed on October 1, 2000.

She said: "This agreement sees the controlled felling and bracken rolling as part of a ten year plan to return the area to heathland including some restoration work in a large pond. Future work on the site will continue to support the enhancement of the heathland vegetation to improve the habitat further.

"The work being carried out by South Bucks District Council is aimed at restoring the Common to heathland which is what it was up until 60 years ago when grazing ceased on the Common. Heathland is a rare and declining habitat which supports a unique flora and fauna. Since the habitat restoration work began in 2000/01, the nationally rare Starfruit re-appeared in 2004 after an absence of 33 years. The site also supports other rare species."

However, Mr Hancox insisted that a rare species of crested newt has not been seen since its habitat was destroyed.

Ms Murray added that South Bucks District Councillor Shorne Tilbey, the portfolio holder for community, a representative from Natural England and Roy Stark, SBDC's facilities and property manager recently met residents at Littleworth Common to discuss their issues.