A Herefordshire farmer, convicted for causing "ecological vandalism on an industrial scale," has seen his prison sentence reduced from one year to 10 months. John Price of Kingsland, committed these environmental atrocities along the beautiful stretch of the River Lugg.
From Day House Farm, Price orchestrated an illegal operation using diggers and bulldozers, removing trees from the riverbanks, contributing to unchecked pollution entering the water. Judge Nicholas Cole, presiding over the case at Worcester Crown Court, lamented that Price had transformed a thriving, biodiverse river into a sterile, lifeless canal.
The court proceedings featured dramatic before-and-after photographs of the damage, courtesy of the Environment Agency and Natural England, depicting a river once abundant with wildlife, reduced to a bare, lifeless waterway. Mr Cole stressed that these laws exist to protect the environment for all, and that blatant disregard must be met with severe consequences.
Despite local support, Judge Cole revealed Price’s track record of convictions related to "river activities", emphasising the repeated nature of his law-flouting behaviour, committed in a "planned manner over a period of time." The judge explained the devastating impacts of Price's actions would linger in the river and its surroundings for as long as a decade.
Price’s sentence reduction was attributed to the current state of prison conditions and his own circumstances, but the immediate commencement of his sentence and a subsequent half-term served in prison underlines the severity of his actions.
The damage inflicted by Price didn’t just affect the landscape but also incited public outrage. Twitter user Pete H wrote: "This man gets 10 months but probably out in 5 for destroying our environment and trees that are 100s of years old. The impact is clear to see."
Sir Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, voiced his disagreement with the custodial sentence, advocating for a fine as a suitable deterrent for potential future offenders. He argued that a man who damages a riverbed does not pose the same sort of threat to our society.
As reported by the Ross Gazette in April 2023, Price, who damaged the River Lugg - a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - was ordered to pay prosecution costs and restoration payments amounting to over £1.2m. Price’s defiant acts extended beyond the recent incident, with a history of uncooperative and at times unlawful behaviour spanning 25 years, including dumping rubble beside the river and creating a dam.
Price's wanton destruction at Kingsland left the riverbed and banks in ruins, resulting in the obliteration of habitats for hundreds of species including otters, kingfishers, salmon, and a range of aquatic plant life. The restoration of the river's health is expected to take decades.
Commenting on the verdict, Emma Johnson of Natural England called it a "devastating" act of destruction. Martin Quine from the Environment Agency added that they are working hard to restore the health of our rivers, implying that sanctions and prosecution will be leveraged as necessary to protect the environment and hold those who flout regulations accountable.