The mayor of Tehran has launched legal proceedings against the British embassy which he accuses of destroying an embassy garden in the Iranian capital -- the latest spat in a prickly relationship with London.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that the judiciary was investigating Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf's accusation that 300 trees had been cut or burnt down at one of two British embassy compounds in the Iranian capital.

The embassy denied the charge, saying extension works on the metro had disrupted the water supply causing 31 trees to die.

Qalibaf -- considered by analysts to be a strong future candidate for the Iranian presidency -- told Iranian newspapers Britain's disregard for the environment at the compound in Tehran's leafy Gholhak neighbourhood was an example of its historic hostility to Iran.

One of the darkest cases in the Iranian people's historical memories pertains to the British government, he was quoted as saying by Arman daily. (Its) hostile behaviour can be seen at the Gholhak compound.

He did not specify which historic event he was referring to but many Iranians blame a variety of ills on Britain, sometimes calling it the 'little Satan to the big Satan of the United States which has no diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Britain is resented by many Iranians for the way it exploited its oil in the early 20th century, supporting a U.S.-backed military coup in 1953 and, most recently, allegedly colluding with anti-government protesters after the contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

The British Embassy denied it had destroyed any trees.

The embassy takes its environmental responsibilities for both its compounds extremely seriously and a significant amount of investment has been put into both compounds during the last three years to ensure that these important green spaces in Tehran are correctly looked after, it said in a statement.

The accusations were made just days after a new British ambassador arrived in Tehran following a hiatus of almost eight months during which many Iranian politicians argued, unsuccessfully, for ties with Britain to be downgraded.

Britain has supported increasingly tough sanctions on Iran over its human rights record and the nuclear programme which many countries fear is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Elizabeth Piper)