Criminals have been banned from helping to clean up a chalk carving in Brighton as part of their community service because the job is "too dangerous".

The project to re-carve the hawk on the hill in Whitehawk was instead carried out by children as young as five.

Probation officers ruled that the "terrain" on the hill in Sheepcote Valley presented a risk of injury to the crooks.

Andy Silsby, director of community volunteer group Serendipity Enterprising Solutions, said the carving, made in 2001 by local artists, needed touching up because it had lost its sharpness.

He said: "It needed a couple of days’ labour. Nothing dangerous, just trimming weeds, cutting the grass and putting in some more chalk."

Mr Silsby said his own risk assessment had shown the work was so safe children as young as five could take part last month.

He said: "This is part of a health and safety mad, nanny state culture.

"There are slopes on the hillside, obviously, and a few brambles. That's it. So we supervised the youngest kids and were careful. But the probation service took a different view.

"If we try to eliminate all risk we'll end up in a situation where we end up doing nothing at all.

"We needed every helping hand we could get, and children of all ages came along.

"I understand that probation officers have their own rules to follow. But it's sad. The offenders missed out on a lovely couple of days in the fresh air."

A Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust spokesman said: "We are required to ensure that we can arrange for offenders to carry out their work in a way that is safe for them and the public.

"Regrettably with this project there was a concern following a risk assessment that the nature of the terrain was such that there could easily be an accident for which Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust could be held liable."

"Should the opportunity to be involved in this project arise in the future we would reassess the situation."

The 30ft hawk lies on a gentle slope between Brighton racecourse and local allotments opposite the Whitehawk estate.