A FARMER has appeared in court over work he carried out to the river Lugg and banks in Herefordshire.

Natural England and the Environment Agency launched joint legal action in response to what they said was damage in Kingsland, near Leominster.

John Price, of Day House Farm, appeared in court on Wednesday as he pleaded guilty to illegal work carried out in November 2020 and December 2021

The site is alongside Lugg Green Road in Kingsland, the route between Mortimer Medical Practice and Bicton.

Hereford Times: The river Lugg at Kingsland pictured in December 2020 after the work was carried outThe river Lugg at Kingsland pictured in December 2020 after the work was carried out

The area is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its importance for nature. Consent is required before any works are carried out within a SSSI to the river which had not been granted.


With Natural England and the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency announced in December 2020 that it had begun a joint investigation into the loss of habitat, which it said could lead to legal action.

Officers from the three agencies, along with Herefordshire Council and the police, took evidence from the site at this time, with around a mile-long stretch affected.

Hereford Times: Officials at the river Lugg in December 2020Officials at the river Lugg in December 2020

The Forestry Commission announced the results of its investigation in February 2021, when it concluded that the tree felling had indeed been licensed and that it would take no further action.

What has farmer John Price done to the Lugg?

In December 2020, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust said all bankside and riverside habitats had been “completely obliterated” after the river and its banks were “bulldozed, straightened and reprofiled into a sterile canal”.

It led to agencies launching what they said was an in-depth investigation, with Mr Price charged more than 15 months later.

Hereford Times: West Mercia Police and the Environment Agency were collecting evidence in December 2020West Mercia Police and the Environment Agency were collecting evidence in December 2020

In March, Natural England the Environment Agency said the charges being brought against landowner Mr Price related to unconsented work causing damage to the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as the river and the stability of its banks.


A bulldozer was pictured in the river, believed to have been carrying out the work which outraged naturalists.

On Wednesday, Price appeared in court, indicating guilty pleas to charges relating to flood risk activity, discharging silt into the Lugg, failing to take reasonable steps to stop farming pollution and disturbing spawn or spawning fish.

He also admitted damaging a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and in December 2021, a year on, he breached stop notice by removing material, desilting and re-profiling the river bank and removing bankside vegetation.

What has he said about the work?

Mr Price did not respond to the Hereford Times when he was charged over the work, and no mitigation was given in court on Wednesday.

The case was instead adjourned until October.

But in an interview in December 2020 said he had looked after the river all his life and was only doing a job he was told to do.

He claimed the work he has done on the riverbanks was legal and was meant to save local homes from flooding, and he had the backing of local councillors.

Hereford Times: Farmer John Price pictured next to the river Lugg in December 2020. Picture: Rob DaviesFarmer John Price pictured next to the river Lugg in December 2020. Picture: Rob Davies

And that appeared to be the case.

Homes were flooded during Storm Dennis in early 2020, but when Storm Christoph hit in January 2021, houses stayed dry.

Ward councillor Sebastian Bowen said the situation had improved as a result of the work.

“The bridge has more capacity now and those houses have not been flooded,” he said in January 2021.

“They have been OK this year thank heavens as we had a lot of rain this week. That’s a plus.

“The reality is it is much improved. People have been quite impressed with what has been done.

“People have stopped and said it was a good job that has been done.

What happens next?

After pleading guilty to seven charges at Kidderminster Magistrates Court, district judge Ian Strongman adjourned the case until October.

That was so experts can look at the riverbank in Kingsland and prepare a restoration plan.

Could farmer John Price go to prison?

In short, yes, some of the offences Price admitted carrying out carry custodial sentences.

The Sentencing Council website said crown court judges can hand down the statutory maximum penalty for offences in respect of flood risk activity, which Price pleaded guilty to, is a custodial sentence with a term of two years.

It also said the statutory maximum penalty for the offences (except in respect of flood risk activity) is a custodial sentence with a term of five years.

Price could be fined instead of, or as well as, serve time in Prison.

There is no suggestion yet that Price will go to prison and he should be sentenced later this year.

What did Herefordshire Wildlife Trust say?

After news broke on Wednesday about the charges, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust tweeted: "We reported on this incident in 2020. Good to see concerns being taken seriously with legal action.”

In December 2020, chief executive Helen Stace said a large stretch of one of the UK’s most important rivers, the Lugg, had been devastated with dire consequences for wildlife and water quality downstream, adding it was a "tragedy".

Hereford Times: Officials meeting during December 2020Officials meeting during December 2020

"As former leader of the English Nature rivers team which notified the Lugg as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, I know this river to be one of the most enchanting tree-lined reaches with immense value for wildlife," she said.

She added: "We expect this case to be dealt with in a serious and robust manner and any resulting prosecution should act as a deterrent to prevent anyone committing this type of crime ever again.

"We will also be calling for the restoration of the river to its natural channel.”

What did the parish council say?

Kingsland Parish Council, which represents the local community, released a statement in December 2020 confirming that it was aware of the incident at Kingsland, which provoked a national outcry.

The parish council said it had been in talks with the Environment Agency, and agency officers attended online council meetings.


The council said at the time: "A site meeting with the agency in September 2020 identified issues near the bridge, and the Environment Agency subsequently wrote that 'the left-hand bank directly upstream of the bridge could do with some reprofiling due to bank slumping... to ease conveyance as it is currently partially obstructing the third arch of the bridge and will look to the landowner to carry out these works'."

Another issue highlighted by the Environment Agency was “a build-up of silt and growth mostly Himalayan balsam on both the upstream and downstream sides,” the council said.

"The parish council supports work to improve the Lugg that is undertaken at the direction and instigation of the Environment Agency and is in line with the appropriate guidelines, regulations and processes that may be applicable."

Monty Don spoke out at the time

Monty Don, who lives in Herefordshire and hosts the BBC show Gardeners' World, said the scene of what was described as a "crime against the environment" by the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust was just a few miles from his home.

Hereford Times: Monty Don said the situation broke his heartMonty Don said the situation broke his heart

Mr Don, whose garden is near Leominster, said: "This is just a few miles from Longmeadow.

"It breaks my heart but is all too-typical of the ignorance, arrogance and sheer wanton destruction of those privileged to care for our countryside."