A farmer who illegally tore out a row of trees along a section of riverbank has been sent to prison for a year.
John Price, aged 68, hired a team of builders to bring an 18-ton digger down to the Lugg river to strip out trees and dredge a length of the water to prevent, he claimed, residents from a nearby hamlet from getting flooded a second time.
But a judge said his actions on the river in Herefordshire were nothing less than “ecological vandalism on an industrial scale” — and jailed him with an order to pay more than £1.2million in restoration and legal costs.
In his summing up, District Judge Ian Strongman told Price he had “turned a traditional tree-lined river into a canal” by removing silt and gravel from the banks of a principal UK salmon river. Price was said to have uprooted more than 70 mature trees within an area officially designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and to have chopped down 24 other trees in 2020. Native vegetation and nesting sites were also lost.
The Environment Agency and Natural England later brought charges against the farmer. According to evidence they provided, the wildlife habitats of kingfishers, otters and trout were said to have been destroyed and would take years to recover.
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At Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court in Worcestershire, Price was convicted of a total of seven offences in connection with breaches of a desists order brought by Natural England. The court heard that despite being served with the notice, Price did not stop the work. In addition to his sentence, he was also disqualified from being a company director for three years.
The court heard that it would cost around £600,000 to repair all the damage the farmer had caused along the banks of the Lugg at Kingsland, near Leominster, which Price was told he would have to pay before the end of 12 months.
In sentencing him, the Judge said: “Any person could not fail to be dismayed by the devastation caused by Mr Price. He has turned it into a canal devoid of most life. It is ecological vandalism on an industrial scale. It was a desire to reduce the risk of flooding. Some residents who live nearby are grateful for Mr Price for taking this action.”
Price, of Day House Farm in Kingsland, who pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a stop notice issued by Natural England in 2020, and carrying out similar work the following year, has land either side of the Lugg with assets valued at up to £25million.
Martin Quine, Environment Agency place manager for Herefordshire, was reported in the Daily Mail as saying: “We welcome the outcome of this prosecution for the unconsented works on the River Lugg. While Mr Price’s justification for the works was to help prevent flooding to local properties, his actions did not have any flood prevention benefit.
“The destruction of river banks is not appropriate flood management. It is important that the Judge recognised that the works significantly weakened flood prevention measures rather than improved them. We urge landowners never to take extreme measures such as this and instead to always work closely with the Environment Agency around river management to agree the best solutions for both landowners and the environment.”
Price had previously told officials that he was asked to carry out the work free of charge as he was fixing the erosion of the river bed and was helping to solve flooding issues. Nearby homes were flooded during Storm Dennis in 2020, but were unaffected when a similar storm hit in January 2021.
According to reports, Price said after completing the work: “I have watched this river all my life and no one knows this river better than myself. I have always looked after the river. I was asked to stop the erosion because I’m the landowner, so I’m responsible for the river.
It was up to the Environmental Agency to look after these rivers but they don’t do any work and haven’t got any money to do the work because they spend it all on clipboards. I have not pushed any trees out and I haven’t knocked any trees down I have only cleared what ones came down in the flood.”
The court was also told that Price had previous dealings with the authorities regarding his actions near the river. In 2007 he was prosecuted and fined after creating a diversion to irrigate his potato farm. In 2018, he was “given guidance and reminded of his obligations” after he re-profiled the river and created embankments.