Millionaire farmer jailed for ‘ecological vandalism’ after attempt to stop home flooding
A millionaire farmer who destroyed the habitats of otters, kingfishers and trout as he illegally ripped out trees has been jailed for a year.
Using diggers and bulldozers, John Price carried out what a judge said was “ecological vandalism on an industrial scale” on a mile-long unspoilt and protected stretch of the River Lugg in Herefordshire.
He destroyed the riverbed and banks as he dredged the waterway, leaving hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage.
Price’s assets are worth up to £25m, the court heard, and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £600,000 and a further £655,000 for work to restore the river at Kingsland.
The 68-year-old, who claimed he was helping prevent flooding to local properties, was also banned from being a company director for three years.
Judge Ian Strongman at Kidderminster Magistrates Court said the jail sentence was intended as a deterrent to others.
Mr Strongman said the farmer’s actions had turned a stretch of traditional tree-lined river, which has protected status as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), into “a canal devoid of life”, adding that “it is ecological vandalism on an industrial scale”.
Environmentalists hailed the sentencing, and waterways campaigner Feargal Sharkey said it was a fantastic outcome, praising the Environment Agency for pursuing the case.
Price, a potato, beef and cereal farmer, from Day House Farm, Kingsland, had admitted seven out of 10 charges brought by the Environment Agency and Natural England related to “unconsented operations and causing damage to a site of special scientific interest”.
The agency says the River Lugg has an exceptionally high diversity of wildlife, with 121 river plant species providing habitat for invertebrates, fish and birds.
The work removed the habitats of hundreds of these species including otters, kingfishers and salmon, as well as destroying trees, aquatic plant life and invertebrates, agency chiefs said.
“It is predicted it will take decades to re-establish mature trees to provide the stability, cover and shade to restore the diversity of the river,” they said.
“Fish, plants, native crayfish and birds may take years to make a gradual return to previous populations.”
Emma Johnson, area manager for Natural England, said: “The River Lugg is one of the most iconic rivers in the UK and to see this wanton destruction take place was devastating.”
Conservationist Miles King said: “In truth, no amount of money will bring the habitats and species back.”