The greatest joy in the life of animal enthusiast David Brown was the wild habitat he owned opposite his cottage that was home to foxes, badgers, hedgehogs and squirrels.
So when he wrote his will, Mr Brown chose to leave his property to the RSPCA – a charity he trusted.
But the RSPCA repaid his trust by selling the land to property developers, and last week, to the horror of his former neighbours, the habitat was flattened – in just 12 hours.
Wildlife haven: Developers dig up the untouched land, a sanctuary for animals, against the wishes of the late David Brown
At least six trees, including two large oaks, were sawn down and the site reduced to muddy patch.
For Mr Brown had made one crucial mistake in drawing up his will – he expressed the ‘wish’ that the area be maintained as an animal sanctuary rather than making it a legal condition of the will.
This technicality allowed the RSPCA to ignore his wishes and instead cash in by selling both the cottage and the land for 295,000.
Neighbours suspected something might be happening when, a week before the diggers moved in, a plaque screwed to a tree in David’s honour was removed and attached to the side of his former cottage.
It read: ‘In loving memory, David, a good friend to us all. Not forgotten.’
Neighbours said Mr Brown used to feed badgers and foxes by hand, and wanted them to continue to live in peace on the plot
Homeless hedgehogs: Mr Brown had made one crucial mistake in drawing up his will, he expressed the “wish” that the are be maintained as an animal sanctuary rather than making it a legal condition
The RSPCA’s actions have caused fury among Mr Brown’s neighbours in Alderley Edge, Cheshire.
Paul Welton said: ‘I remember him coming to see me after writing his will and saying, “It will be safe now.” For him it was the most important thing. The RSPCA has ridden roughshod over his wishes.’
Julie Richards, who took in Mr Brown’s cat after his death in 2007, said: “We thought leaving it all to the RSPCA was a fantastic thing to do. He has been badly let down.’
Mr Brown had given 3 a week to the RSPCA for most of his life.
Despite suffering dyslexia, the 61-year-old would write down things that were important. After his death, Ms Richards found a notebook in his cottage in which he had written his wishes for his estate.
It read: ‘The house cleared and sold – money for RSPCA for cats’ home. Antiques to be sold. acre of land to be left undeveloped, can be used for animals.’
Bold: Foxes would feed from Mr Brown”s hands on the plot of land he left to animal charity the RSPCA to maintain as a sanctuary
Mr Welton added: ‘It was teeming with wildlife and fruit. David would feed the foxes and badgers by hand.’
Another neighbour, Mark Duffy, 48, a design consultant, said: ‘I think what they have done is illegal and I am going to challenge it.
A team of them arrived last Wednesday and started going for it like an army assault team. We all suspect that it is only a matter of time before they apply to build houses on it.’
Mr Brown’s elder brother, Geoffery, 71, who lives nearby, said: ‘It’s very sad that this land has been left bare when my brother wanted it protected. I am really very angry.’ It is understood that the RSPCA decided to sell the land in 2008.
Squirrels are among the animals likely to lose their homes if the RSPCA goes ahead and builds on the plot of land
It was sold to companies connected to The Emerson Group, a development firm based nearby and owned by property tycoon Peter Jones.
The RSPCA, which also inherited 30,000 in premium bonds from Mr Brown, said: ‘Mr Brown wished us not to sell the land for building though this wasn’t a binding condition of the will. The RSPCA has used the money for its animals.’
Nobody from The Emerson Group was available for comment but a spokesman for East Cheshire Council said: ‘We are not aware of anything being done in breach of planning control.’