A HOMEOWNER who fenced off an area of land next to his house, and now plans to build on it, has been branded a 'garden grabber.'

Neil Hilson has applied to build a four-bed house on the land — right next to Shanklin's Sibden Hill and Batts Copse Nature Reserve.

A certificate of lawfulness was granted five years ago after it was demonstrated the land at Blythe Way had been in continuous use as a garden.

But the application, for a split level, detached home with parking, has provoked the wrath of the Batts Copse Improvement Group.

Treasurer Stephanie Welch said the land had been claimed using 'squatter's rights' and should not be built on.

The nature reserve is owned by the council and managed by Gift to Nature, part of the Island 2000 Trust.

The trust's Graham Biss said such a large building, overlooking the reserve, would discourage people from using it for 'playing, picnicking, wildlife study or simply enjoying the peaceful countryside environment.'

He said it was 'an important oasis of countryside in an otherwise fairly urban area.'

Planning agent Glen Hepburn said Mr Hilson had lawfully claimed the land by adverse possession.

"I understand the point people are making about the adjacent nature reserve and that's something the planning department will consider. The council will need to weight that up against the need for housing," he said.

Shanklin Town Council has not objected to the application as members know Mr Hilson, a former town councillor, and declared an interest.

However, it asked planning officers to ensure the site does not encroach onto the reserve.