Luxury housing developer fined after destroying dormouse habitat

A luxury housing developer has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 for destroying land that was home to rare hazel dormice.

Hampshire Police were first contacted by Fareham Borough Council in 2019 following reports that the site in Swanwick, Hampshire, had been cleared by a large machine.

Heavy track marks were evident at the site, and hedgerows and shrubs had been ripped up by the roots and piled around the land, according to the police.

The landowner, Knightsgate (UK) Ltd, had contracted a tree surgeon to carry out the work, even though it had received an ecology report which made it clear that protected species were onsite.There were also planning conditions at the site which included dormouse mitigation.

The company was charged with damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species following an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch Team, supported by local ecologists, the local planning authority and charity the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.

Knightsgate had admitted the offence at a previous court hearing at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court in October 2020.

The court found that the company had acted recklessly by failing to properly give instructions to the contractor about clearing the site. 

At a hearing at Portsmouth Crown Court on Wednesday, the company was handed a £40,000 fine. The court also made a confiscation order of £69,000 – the sum the company would have had to pay had they followed the recommendations of the ecology report.

PC Lynn Owen, from the Country Watch Team, said: “Dormice are a rare and protected species which we are very fortunate to have breeding in Hampshire.

“Their population has been decreasing dramatically in the UK over the last century, and this destruction of their habitat by Knightsgate has caused a devastating blow to the animals.”

Ian White, dormouse officer for People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Hazel dormice are a rare and declining species in England and Wales, and because of this they are a protected species. Their habitats can be managed sympathetically when areas are built on, but all too often their presence is ignored by developers in the pursuit of profit.

“Buildings may come and go but once dormice are lost from these shores, they are lost forever. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that does not happen.”

The tree surgeon, 29-year-old James Rolph from the Upham area of Hampshire, was previously sentenced on 23 October 2020 and fined £1,000.