German officers have been digging at an allotment area close to where the main suspect in the case used to live.
German police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are searching a site near Hanover, prosecutors have told local media.
Footage from the scene shows heavy machinery being used in the search.
Sky’s crime correspondent Martin Brunt said: “It’s a dramatic development. Police in Germany started digging at an allotment area near Hanover this morning, where Christian B, the main suspect in the Madeleine McCann investigation lived for a period some years ago.
“The public prosecutor’s office and the federal police have confirmed to local media and to our own reporter in Germany that this is connected to the Madeleine McCann investigation.”
He added: “Since this morning an area of trees has been cleared. Police are there, there are forensic officers there as part of this investigation. A mini excavator is being used to dig the land and there is some activity at least just off the side of the road there.
“It’s not clear exactly what police are looking for, whether it’s potential evidence directly linked to the disappearance of Madeleine or whether its something that’s more connected to Christian B the suspect.”
Maik Niemtschke, who lives in Hanover, told Sky News the search began at around 6:30am local time (5:30am UK time) and up to 100 police officers have been at the scene.
He said the main area of the search is on land where there is a bungalow, which is being used as a second home, and a garden shed.
Mr Niemtschke said the area is located between a road and a river.
He added that another area is being searched around 300m from the bungalow.
Julia Meyer, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig confirmed local media reports that police investigators had been at the site since Monday with an excavator in connection with the case.
She said: “The procedure is taking place in connection with our investigation regarding Maddie McCann.”
Ms Meyer said she could not give any further details on the procedure, adding only that police would “still need some more time to finish”.
Madeleine was three when she disappeared from an apartment in the seaside town of Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007.
A German citizen, who can be named only as Christian B, was identified as a suspect in the case last month and is being investigated on suspicion of murder.
The 43-year-old, who is currently in prison in Germany, spent many years living in Portugal.
He also lived in Praia da Luz around the time of McCann’s disappearance, and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls”.
The suspect was last registered as living in Germany in the city of Braunschweig, which is about 40 miles from Hanover.