Conservationists have voiced their horror at the destruction of rare orchids on Highdown Hill.
Ferring Conservation Group has accused Southern Water of violating an agreement to protect pyramidal orchids on the roof of an underground reservoir.
A written policy agreed between Southern Water and the group in 2017 said it would not mow the orchids between May and September to allow them to seed.
This summer, chairman of the conservation group David Bettiss said he returned to the site to find it completely mown for the third time.
“I cannot believe that having put so much effort into trying to preserve this wildflower colony, we have been frustrated for the third year running by the incompetence of Southern Water,” he said.
“I really fear that after three years of such cutting the colony will have been destroyed. We are so angry as this is totally unnecessary.”
An email seen by the Herald from Southern Water, from April this year, assured David contractors had been told not to mow the orchids as they ‘don’t want any mishaps’.
Within two months the orchids had been destroyed. Contrary to the policy, Southern Water said they were allowed to seed only ‘where operationally practical’ and mowing was ‘good practice’.
A spokesman said: “It is correct that we have begun regular mowing of this small area. We mow the surface of the reservoir roof to reduce the risk of larger shrub growth and roots penetrating the reservoir structure.
“Mowing to the edges and areas of grass around the reservoir hatches is part of the management plan for this site and is absolutely essential in allowing us to continue our operations at Highdown Hill.
“We always do our best to protect the local biodiversity and it’s important to stress again that we do not uproot the orchids and where operationally practical, we allow them to flower and seed before mowing.”