Work has stopped on dismantling the iconic radio transmission station at Rampisham Down, following concerns that planning permission has not yet been granted for a giant solar farm.
All but three of the 34 steel towers - some more than 100 metres high - are due for demolition if permission is given for a solar panel park set to create around 70 full-time jobs.
But observers and conservationists have made approaches to the planning authority claiming that work has already started on the site and that an important area of natural and unspoiled grassland has been damaged in the process.
West Dorset District Council's Head of Projects and Specialist Services, Andrew Martin said: “A number of the masts have been taken down without planning permission and in the process there has been some damage to a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. “The unauthorised works have now stopped whilst the pending application to construct a solar farm is being considered. And the applicant is preparing a restoration plan to put right the damage to the ecological interest on the site.” Giles Frampton, business development director of British Solar Renewables said the company had been working closely with the planners and stressed that there was no requirement to obtain planning consent to dismantle the radio masts.
“The Site of Nature Conservation Interest is not a statutory designation, but we have been working with the district council and appropriate wildlife agencies to ensure that we remove the masts in the most appropriate way,” he said.
“When concerns were raised about our works on site, in the spirit of co-operation that we like to promote, we stopped work immediately.
“That of course has had a knock-on effect for those people who we have been employing locally. “We hope to gain the planning consent and we will then be able to re-employ them, but we are not taking anything for granted.”
Natural England and the Dorset Wildlife Trust have both objected to the planning application for the site which includes areas of lowland acid grassland which they consider to be of “national ecological value”.
Trevor Bevins, director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Dorset said: “In essence this is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, in the CPRE's opinion, should not be built on and certainly not worked on while in the process of waiting for planning permission to be granted.
“Some areas have been dug up and posts have been put in and they have knocked down towers.
“If they had waited until the application had been decided then everybody could have had their say and if permission is granted, then all well and good, but this has been pre-empting a decision.”
The plans include a two-metre security fence and six four to six-metre high CCTV cameras guarding the 163,000 panels spread over 75 acres - covering about a third of the total 189-acre site. The panels will generate around 40 mega watts of electricity which is sufficient to power small town of 40,000 homes.