A GROUP of trees close to the iconic Seven Sisters on The Quantock Hills are to be felled to protect an ancient monument underground.

The beech trees, on Cothelstone Hill, will be removed over a four-year period after concerns that their roots could start to damage a rabbit warren which dates back almost 4,000 years ago to the Bronze Age.

A spokesman for English Heritage said they were working with the Quantock Hills AONB Service to manage the land, adding: “We agreed that the needs of this scheduled monument, which is at high risk, take precedence over the beautiful but relatively young trees.”

John Fisher, of Kingston St Mary, who regularly walks his dogs on Cothel-stone Hill, said he was “gobsmacked”, adding that the felling would leave the skyline bare for the next 20 years.

He said: “I understand we need to preserve archaeological heritage but we should be thinking about protecting the areas millions of people recognise.

“They are also part of a lovely walk that I always take visitors too, an area I visit regularly, and the subject of a huge number of photos, often with the ponies.

“They should find the money to plant bigger replacement to give them a start.”

The Quantock Hills AONB Service says they have funding to replace the clump of trees and that they would be planted in the autumn near the top of the hill and away from the heritage site.

Iain Porter, Development Officer, said: “English Heritage is concerned that the roots of the trees could start to cause damage to the scheduled monument and there is also the risk of wind blow due to the exposed location of the site, where the whole root plate is uprooted which would cause significant damage.

“Unfortunately damage is already being caused due to erosion of the surface layers of the scheduled monument due to the herd of Exmoor ponies, which use the location for shelter.”

The artificial rabbit warren, or pillow mound, was used to farm rabbits for their meat and fur which became popular with lords of the manor after the Norman Conquest, partly as a way of displaying wealth and status.