Forestry Commission England has described it as the largest incidence of timber theft from public forest in recent years.

Haulier Michael Morgan and contractor Philip Greenham, who both pleaded guilty to theft charges, were also banned from conducting their business on the public forest estate in England for the “foreseeable future”.

Prior to his conviction, Mr Greenham paid the Forestry Commission a five-figure sum for the timber and legal costs.

The court heard that Forest Enterprise England staff placed cameras on a forest access route near Telford last autumn after noticing missing timber as part of routine security monitoring. The missing wood was small diameter softwood “chipping” logs (tops of felled trees).

Discrepancies in timber movements were discovered by the cameras and the police were asked to investigate.

The court heard that both men cut trees from a standing sale parcel of forest and took the timber to a local farmer who bought it at market rate before chipping it into animal bedding. The defendants shared the money.

The police investigation uncovered the extent of theft by looking into the men’s business records. Officers were satisfied that the owner of the standing timber and the farmer were not involved.

The volume of timber taken was equivalent to around 22 lorry loads.

“The impact of timber theft from the forest, even as an isolated incident, has significant effects on all others in the supply chain,” said a Forestry Commission England spokesperson.

“Timber from the public forest estate is almost entirely sold on a competitive basis so anyone stealing wood, or bidding with the intention to do so, is competing unfairly. This disadvantages every other bidder as well as the public purse.”

The spokesperson said it was unusual to achieve a successful prosecution for timber theft, partly because it was a rare occurrence on this scale, but also because in the past the Forestry Commission did not have the advanced camera technology to monitor suspicious transport of timber.