Petition calls for appeal against court ruling after farmer's river works

Natural England and the Environment Agency had launched legal action against the Herefordshire farmer
Natural England and the Environment Agency had launched legal action against the Herefordshire farmer

Thousands of people have signed a petition in support of a Herefordshire farmer who was sentenced to prison after he dredged a mile-long stretch of the River Lugg.

Kidderminster Magistrates Court sentenced John Price to 12 months in prison following an investigation and prosecution by Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Mr Price, a mixed Herefordshire farmer, entered a guilty plea to all seven charges last year.

He was accused of 'obliterating' riverside habitats after he dredged a mile-long stretch of the River Lugg, a protected river, in December 2020.

Mr Price said at the time that he undertook the maintenance works to protect local households from flooding, which were heavily impacted by storms in 2019.

But Natural England and the Environment Agency said the banks of the River Lugg were "damaged" causing "significant and long-term ecological harm".

Since the sentence was handed down on 20 April, an online petition has launched to appeal against it, gaining nearly 4,000 signatories in the space of 24 hours.

Emily Naylor, who started the petition on Friday (21 April), said Mr Price "did the most amazing job" in clearing the banks and dredging the bottom of the River Lugg.

"The land has since grown back with native plants and encouraged local wildlife," she said, "Yet on 20 April they have sentenced him to 12 months prison sentence plus a fine of over £600k.

"Please sign this petition to support the man who has done the job that the Environment Agency were too afraid to carry out, saving multiple local homes from the yearly flooding a and the old bridge from further flood damage."

One signatory said: "The EA should have done this work years before Mr Price was asked to do it. Completely wrong and against a natural feel for justice that his sentence is so harsh."

Another added: "I'm struggling to believe what I've just read - it's absolutely mind boggling. May I suggest the Environment Agency improves before taking such inappropriate action against a helpful, innocent person."

Mr Price's charges included carrying out operations on an SSSI-protected river without consent, contravening a stop notice, contravening the Environmental Permitting Regulations and contravening the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations.

Martin Quine, Environment Agency place manager for Herefordshire, said the agency welcomed the outcome of the prosecution.

“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."