A COMPANY which planned to build 400 homes on part of a country park has been accused of “wildlife crime” by protestors after natural habitats were destroyed.

Theakston Land’s contractors bulldozed two long-established ponds, used as a watering hole for roe deer at Flatts Lane Country Park, near Middlesbrough, and tore down trees during the bird nesting season, just weeks before submitting a planning application for homes earlier this year.

The homes plan was rejected unanimously by Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s regulatory committee yesterday. More than 2,000 people had signed a petition against plans to build on the edge of the much-loved park, which lies at the foot of the Eston Hills.

Craig Hornby, who runs the Friends of Eston Hills group, said at the meeting: “After denying that they (Theakston Land) had plans for housing, and with no planning permission for housing in place, they chose, during bird-nesting season, to tear down trees and bushes across the entire site.

“They churned up a well-used bridle path and bulldozed long-established ponds. The site reclaimed by nature after decades is now devoid of life.”

The ponds were believed to house great-crested newts, which are a protected species under planning law.

Theakston Land director Christopher Harrison was asked why it had happened. He said: “As part of ongoing onsite work our agricultural agent has been ploughing fields and removing overgrown plantations.

“I am not certain if any water holes have been filled in. If it has we are sorry about it. I wasn’t in attendance when that took place.”

Protesters called for the company to be investigated over its actions, but it is unclear if anything will be done.

Councillor Billy Ayre, who represents the Normanby ward, criticised “the barbaric fashion in which this site has been flattened”.

“It has now gone forever,” he said.

Former countryside worker David Watson, who helped create Flatts Lane park, said while two of the ponds had been filled in, another had turned red as if it had been dyed or polluted.

Redcar MP Anna Turley also attended the meeting to speak out against the development.