Conservation group calls for justice for the River Lugg

The Lugg at Hampton Bishop (image credit: Philip Halling, CC BY-SA 2.0 license).

Damaged stretch of river must be restored following successful prosecution by Natural England and Environment Agency, says Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

On 20 April a court sentenced a landowner to prison for badly damaging a stretch of the River Lugg. This followed a successful investigation and prosecution by Natural England and the Environment Agency where the landowner pleaded guilty to carrying out work without consents.

Full restoration of this highly protected river is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Speaking after the verdict, Jamie Audsley, chief executive, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said:

“Today’s outcome means justice for the River Lugg. The sentencing reflects the seriousness of the damage caused to a stretch of the river and which is supposed to be protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“We were shocked to discover a bulldozer was used to undertake work in the river, disturbing gravels, reprofiling a bank and removing vegetation – the episode caused immense harm to this special and much-loved river. The riverbed and its plants such as water crowfoot are home to crayfish, otters and salmon, lampreys and dragonflies.

“Whilst it will take a long time to recover, we hope that this stretch of river can once again become a thriving natural habitat for wildlife. We’re all looking forward to seeing it restored to its natural beauty.

“Landowners have a clear and vital responsibility to look after the rivers in their care. This prosecution must act as a deterrent to prevent anyone harming rivers again.

“We would like to thank teams from Natural England and the Environment Agency for their diligent investigations, which led to this prosecution, and to Herefordshire Wildlife Trust staff and members for their support.”

In December 2020, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust sounded the alarm about environmental damage at a highly protected stretch of the River Lugg at Kingsland which led to an investigation by Natural England and the Environment Agency. Farmer, Mr John Price of Day House Farm, Kingsland, was charged with a number of offences, including failing to stop agricultural pollution from entering the river and removing trees and vegetation from the banks, and re-profiling river banks; and carrying out work without consents in November 2020 and December 2021.

He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced today at Kidderminster Magistrates Court. During a court hearing in May 2022, the prosecution asked Natural England and the Environment Agency to provide a full plan of restoration works for the stretch of the river.

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has been working hard over the last decade, in partnership with landowners and communities, to improve habitats along the Lugg Valley for wildlife as well as for wider benefits including natural flood management and reducing pollution.

Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“I’m delighted that the prosecution has been successful but prosecutions like this are all too rare. Underfunding of our environmental regulators means investigations and enforcement action lags behind the urgent need to protect our rivers, which are facing unparalleled pressures, including agricultural run-off, and sewage pollution. We need to see strong support from politicians for our enforcement agencies and more resources for the agencies to do the job properly.”

“Prosecutions by the Environment Agency’s predecessor for water-related offences numbered upwards of 250 a year, whereas now numbers are close to a tenth of that, and staffing levels declined by a quarter in the decade since 2010. When only 14% of rivers in England are at good ecological status, and all fail chemical standards primarily due to historic pollution, the hollowing-out of these agencies is undermining our ability to protect and repair our damaged environment. The regulations that protect our natural world are only effective if our regulators are properly funded, so we need to see resources and political support for enforcement restored.

“Landowners and businesses need to know there’s a strong and realistic deterrent, and that if they damage or pollute our waterways, enforcement action will surely follow. Otherwise, polluters prosper, while society and nature pay the price.”