THE removal of a hedgerow which destroyed a colony of one of the UK’s rarest plants was approved by planning chiefs.

Winchester City Council gave Pinglestone Farm near Alresford permission for the grubbing up as the hedge did not meet criteria to be protected - but unsuccessfully urged the landowner to consider the impact it would have.

The decision to amalgamate the two fields has affected the ‘pheasants eye’ - a distinctive red flower - and was made to allow a vineyard to be planted.

In their decision notice, the council said: “Surveys and data analysis have indicated that the hedgerow cannot be considered ‘important’ under section 97 of the Environment Act 1995, as it does not meet the requisite criteria for ecology or historic environment.”

But it added: “Given the number of woody species and non-woody species present in the hedgerow, the food source these provide, and the diverse habitat potential, it is highly likely that protected species are present in the hedgerow, although our survey was unable to collect sufficient evidence for the purposes of the hedgerow regulations.

“In addition to our concerns for protected species, the hedgerow also supports a high number of non-protected species, many of which are pollinators that the new vineyard would benefit from.”

In the 20th century, seed-sorting techniques hindered the species’ means of distribution, limiting them to isolated populations, and herbicides have further decimated numbers.

‘Pheasant’s eye’ all but disappeared from UK fields, persisting in only in a handful of spots in southern England.

One of these places was an arable margin bordered by hedge and woodland between Wayfarer’s Walk and Oxdrove Way.

There also grew a number of other declining species including dwarf spurge, rye brome, and the last-but-one population of ‘pheasant’s eye’ in Hampshire, until the hedge was grubbed up this month.

Pete Flood, local botanist, said: “It’s tragic to see the loss of such prime arable margin habitat, and one of the best colonies of this exceedingly rare plant to be found anywhere in the UK, but I’m still hopeful that Natural England and the landowner can work together to repair the damage.”

He said it was an example of the loss of diversity. Stone curlews, ring ouzels and golden plover are all losing out to pheasants.

Ben Robinson, agent for the landowners, declined to comment, but that the landowners were aware of the Chronicle’s report.

A tweet by Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre said: “Hedge didn’t qualify under Hedgerow Regulations so removal couldn’t be stopped. Believe safeguarding discussions underway for arable plants.”

In a statement, the council said: “When an application is made to remove a hedge the council must follow strict guidelines set out within the Hedgerow Regulations.“As our officers were aware of the value of the biodiversity of the hedge, they searched the HBIC database and conducted a thorough onsite inspection to identify whether there were any species whose presence empowered us to preserve it. In this case there was not enough evidence of these species to allow the council to insist that the hedge remains.

“However, we recognised the biodiversity and landscape value of the hedge, and therefore issued with the ‘Notice to Remove’ an advice note which pointed out the high environmental value of the hedgerow and a request to preserve it if possible.”

Portfolio holder for built environment, Cllr Caroline Brook said: “I’m sorry that this hedge and field margin has been lost and that the landowners chose not to follow our advice. Biodiversity is important and we work hard to protect and enhance it.

“We would like to work with the landowner and HBIC to ensure this and other rare arable plants continue to survive on Fob Down.”