A developer has provoked outrage by burning down dozens of trees, causing flames up to 40ft high and prompting several calls to the emergency services.

Glenbeigh Limited bought woodland at the end of Dolphin Road, Shoreham, with the intention of building industrial units and chopped down and burnt sycamores and hawthorns on Monday.

But wind fanned the flames, just 20ft from a railway line, and firefighters were called out twice to bring them under control.

Environmental health officers attended after residents complained they were being choked by clouds of smoke.

The residents believe the woodland, which had been there for 60 years and was bought from Southern Water, was a haven for bats, lizards and slow worms.

Angus Dunn, 40, of Church Green, Shoreham, said the developer attempted to clear the trees three weeks ago but relented following opposition from people in houses neighbouring the woodland.

As the woodland is on private land the trees are not protected by preservation orders.

But residents are angry they were cut down before an application had been submitted for the industrial units.

Susan Eves, 42, also of Church Green, said: "This morning I looked at it and sobbed.

"It used to be deafening with bird song and it was beautiful. This morning all there was were the crows picking over what was left."

Adur district councillor Julie Searle said: "This is about putting industrial units behind housing and losing our green spaces."

Firefighters told the owner to extinguish the fire on the 1.5 acre site at 9.45am and to notify them of any further fires. But they were forced to return at 2.30pm to put out another fire. There was no sign of the owner.

An Adur District Council spokeswoman said: "There was a lot of smoke. It was windy as well, which didn"t help.

"The developer was asked not to put any more on the fire and has also been advised of more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of the trees."

A spokesman for Glenbeigh Limited said it organised a survey which had to be approved by English Nature and Sussex Police before the trees could be cut down.

He said it showed there was no trace of nesting birds or bats and an ecologist was present to double check each tree and ensure any slow worms and lizards were unaffected.

He said: "When we started the fire there was no breeze but unfortunately it picked up and the smoke went towards the neighbours.

"We decided to extinguish the fire and put it out with the fire brigade.

"We have to work within the Wildlife Act and we did."