POLICE have launched an investigation into claims that skylark nests have been destroyed at a Halesowen beauty spot earmarked for development.

Residents and a bird-watching expert believe the nests belonging to an estimated five breeding pairs of the iconic songbird were decimated when a contractor working on behalf of building company St Modwen dug trial pits and bore holes for soil sampling on the Coombeswood Green Wedge.

John Ebrey, a local surveyor for the British Trust for Ornithology, said he had implored the contractor not to press ahead with the work at the start of the breeding season.

He and residents, who have opposed the plans to relocate the Coombs Wood Sports and Social Club and build a cricket pitch and facilities on greenbelt off Stewarts Road, to make way for house building at the club’s current leased home in Coombs Road, say the skylarks have disappeared since the work was carried out earlier this month.

Mr Ebrey, who has studied the Coombeswood skylarks for many years, said he was certain that there would have been nests - possibly containing eggs - hidden in the long grass that would have been destroyed.

Sgt Martin Hall, of Halesowen Police, confirmed the incident had been reported as an alleged breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which makes it illegal to destroy nests.

“Inquiries are commencing to establish whether an offence has been committed,” he added.

Mr Ebrey said he remained convinced that skylarks had started to build their nests around where the soil samples were taken from, despite St Modwen’s wildlife consultant Andy Warren finding no evidence of nesting birds.

He said he had seen a skylark carrying food into the long grass last year and had watched one in early April perform its display flight in preparation for breeding.

But Mr Warren said he had only heard skylarks singing high in the sky during two visits to the site on behalf of St Modwen and believed there were two many dogs walkers for the songbirds to nest there.

Sue Yeadon, from the Friends of Coombeswood, said a condition of the planning permission was that if nesting birds were found the work would have to stop for assessment.

“We just feel like we are fighting a losing battle. St Modwen had 14 months to conduct these surveys and the fact that they chose to do it now at such a critical time for the skylarks puts into question any commitment they have for protecting the environment,” she said.

Fellow protester Sue Westbury said it had been “fantastic” having the skylarks but now they had gone.

St Modwen’s senior development director Ian Romano said that as well as having two breeding birds and protected species surveys carried out during the works, the company was “committed to carrying out nature conservation, mitigation and an enhancement plan” before any development took place.