A Herefordshire farmer has been jailed for 12 months for destroying a stretch of the River Lugg – one of the country’s most unspoiled rivers.
John Price, 68, appeared at Kidderminster Magistrates Court last month where he was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £600,000 and disqualified from being a company director for three years.
The sentence is the result of legal action launched last year. It followed a joint investigation by Natural England and the Environment Agency into environmental harm caused by the work in 2020 and 2021.
Mr Price used heavy machinery – including bulldozers and excavators – to dredge and reprofile a 1.5km stretch of the River Lugg at Kingsland, Herefordshire. He claimed he undertook the work to improve the flow of water and reduce flood risk.
But the unconsented works breached several regulations, including the Farming Rules for Water; and operations prohibited in the notification of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Prosecutors said Mr Price persisted with the work despite a stop notice.
Damage to the river and banks removed the habitats of hundreds of species – including otters, kingfishers and salmon as well as destroying trees, aquatic plant life and invertebrates.
Conservationists say it will take decades to re-establish mature trees to provide the stability, cover and shade to restore the diversity of the river. Fish, plants, native crayfish and birds may take years to make a gradual return to previous populations.
Speaking after the verdict, Natural England area manager Emma Johnson said: “The destruction of this section of the River Lugg was devastating for the abundance and range of species which thrived in this river.
“The River Lugg is one of the most iconic rivers in the UK and to see this wanton destruction take place was devastating. This is why we have used our powers as regulators to see that justice was done and to act as a stark warning to others.”
Works to SSSIs or watercourses must be done in such a way that protects the environment and does not cause any impact on flooding. Such works can only be undertaken after securing permits from the Environment Agency.
Environment Agency place manager Martin Quine said restoring river health was a complex task which could only be achieved in partnership with landowners – most of whom fully cooperated with the process.
Mr Quine added: “We provide advice and guidance but will impose sanctions or prosecute where appropriate to protect the environment and ensure those who breach regulations are held to account.
“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.
“We urge landowners never to take extreme measure 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.”