BARNSLEY Council may take legal action against a consortium of scrap dealers to resolve a row over the ownership of part of a nature reserve.
Carlton Marsh Reserve was established in 1980 and is the oldest nature reserve in the borough.
Barnsley Council says it owns all the land after obtaining a compulsory purchase order years ago, but the scrap dealers claim they still own part of it.
The legal dispute has been running for some time, but last weekend diggers were used to remove sections of a hedgerow and to block off access to parts of the site and to steps and gates causing outrage amongst nature lovers and regular visitors.
Keen bird watcher Walter Potts was appalled by the damage.
"A huge stretch of hedgerow which contained lots of nesting birds was ripped up by machines," he said.
"I was speechless when I saw just how much damage had been caused. So many people have volunteered their time and effort to creating and keeping this lovely nature reserve and now these men and their machines have done all this damage."
Regular visitor Mary Barnett, said: "It's a beautiful place. One of the scrap dealers said he was going to build houses on the land - but the western meadow is bog and flood plain and houses a vent from the old colliery, so the land is unstable so how could it ever be housing?"
A council spokesman said: “The council considers it is the lawful owner of the land. We will take the appropriate action to protect this land and preserve public access, including legal action if necessary.”