Farmer who turned protected river into a ‘canal devoid of wildlife’ has sentence reduced on appeal

A Herefordshire farmer who was given a jail sentence and has been ordered to pay around £1.2 million after causing the "wanton destruction" of a protected river has had his prison sentence reduced.

At Kidderminster Magistrates Court on April 20, John Price of Day House Farm, Kingsland, was found guilty of seven charges that included dredging and reprofiling a 1.5-kilometre stretch of the river Lugg at Kingsland, Herefordshire, which is is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), using heavy machinery. 

Price was fined £600,000 and also served a Restoration Order to restore the river as per the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which is also expected to cost £600,000. This takes the amount to pay to around £1.2 million.

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The Environment Agency (EA), who brought the case against Price alongside Natural England, described the offences as the “worst case of riverside destruction” it had seen and said it will take decades to re-establish mature trees and restore the diversity of the river.

Price was also originally sentenced to 12 months in prison. However, after appealing his sentence at a hearing at Worcester Crown Court that concluded on 17 May, this has been reduced to 10 months. 

According to the BBC, Judge Nicholas Cole told the court that he accepted the impact of prison conditions on the 68-year-old.

He reportedly said that Price "did not pose a risk to the public but [did] clearly pose a risk to the environment" after carrying out “vandalism of the environment on a grand scale”.

The judge said that Price had turned a "beautiful stretch of river into a canal devoid of wildlife”. 

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The damage caused by Price saw the destruction of hundreds of species’ habitats including otters, kingfishers and salmon. In total, 71 mature trees within the SSSI were completely uprooted and 24 trees felled, according to the BBC.

Price’s actions were in breach of several regulations, including the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018, and carrying out works in a SSSI without a permit, which Price continued despite being issued with a Stop Notice by Natural England.

The sentence has been divisive. Nearly 15,000 people signed a petition for the court ruling to be overturned. The petition described Price’s work as “most amazing job clearing the banks and dredging the bottom of the river Lugg”.

Price reportedly argued in court that he undertook some of the work as part of protecting local properties from floods, however the court heard that his action did not have any flood prevention benefit. 

According to the Herefordshire Times, the court previously heard from Price's barrister Jo Sidhu KC that Price has autism and that his actions should be regarded as reckless, not deliberate. 

However, although this was taken into account,  Judge Cole reportedly said that Price knew the difference between right and wrong and there is no justification for his “selfish and ignorant” actions.