A FARMER who hired diggers and bulldozers to illegally rip up trees along the banks of a river has been jailed for 12 months.

John Price admitted seven charges of damaging a stretch of the River Lugg in Herefordshire, including failing to stop pollution entering the water.

He was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £600,000 and disqualified from being a director of a limited company for three years.

A Restoration Order under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was also imposed requiring Price to carry out a number of actions to restore the river. It is predicted to take decades to re-establish mature trees to provide the stability, cover and shade to restore the diversity of the river.

The sentence is the result of legal action launched last year by Natural England and the Environment Agency after an investigation into environmental harm caused by work carried out by Price in 2020 and 2021.

The 68-year-old used heavy machinery including bulldozers and excavators to dredge and reprofile a 1.5 km stretch of the Lugg at Kingsland, Herefordshire, destroying the riverbed and banks.

Forestry Journal: John Price used heavy machinery to reprofile the bankJohn Price used heavy machinery to reprofile the bank (Image: Environment Agency)

The works were in breach of several regulations, and in a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which persisted despite Price being issued with a stop notice. In total 71 mature trees within the SSSI were completely uprooted and 24 trees felled, with native vegetation and nesting sites destroyed.

Speaking after the verdict, Emma Johnson, area manager for Natural England 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 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 that we will take the strongest action against those who do not respect the laws that protect the environment and wildlife we all cherish.

Forestry Journal: The site after John Price carried out the works to the bank of the river LuggThe site after John Price carried out the works to the bank of the river Lugg (Image: Richard Stanton)

“We want to ensure that Mr Price now takes the necessary actions which we hope, in time will restore this much-loved stretch of river to its former condition.”

Martin Quine, Environment Agency place manager for Herefordshire said that the EA is working hard to restore the health of rivers, a complex task that can only be achieved in partnership with landowners.

"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," he said.

"The vast majority of landowners and users fully cooperate with this process.

Forestry Journal: The site on the Lugg before John Price used heavy machinery to reprofile the bankThe site on the Lugg before John Price used heavy machinery to reprofile the bank (Image: Environment Agency)

“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 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.”

This article originally appeared on our sister title, the Hereford Times