Farmer guilty of damaging one of Derbyshire’s finest conservation sites

A FARMER has been ordered to pay financial penalties totalling £18,710 and to carry out restoration work at his own expense, after admitting to carrying out un-authorised activities in an area legally protected for its rare geological features and upland habitats, within the Peak District National Park.

Robert Hall of Longnor, Buxton pleaded guilty to un-authorised ditch work and dumping spoil along the ditch edge, rush cutting and overgrazing at High Peak Magistrates Court on Thursday. His actions, within the Goyt Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) have resulted in significant damage to the interest features for which the site is notified.

The four separate offences first came to light during a routine monitoring visit in July 2009. Since then Natural England has made several attempts to persuade Mr Hall to comply with his legal obligations, including offers to help draw up a formal management plan and to explore the options for entering the land into the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme. Under HLS, land managers are rewarded financially for managing their land in an environmentally-friendly way.

The court has ordered Mr Hall to dam the drainage ditches and modify his grazing regime.

Janette Ward, Natural England’s regulation director, said: “Legal action is always a last resort for us, and we were disappointed that it had to come to this, after we made several unsuccessful attempts to seek compliance at Goyt Valley – which receives international recognition for its wildlife features.

“It is important to ensure that such special areas of our natural heritage can be protected and we work with many landowners across the country who take their responsibilities extremely seriously.

“These relationships are based on mutual trust and understanding and we hope that Mr Hall will now be able to work with us to manage this special area more appropriately in the future.

“Goyt Valley SSSI was notified in 1990 for its extensive tracts of semi-natural upland and upland fringe vegetation typical of the Southern Pennines. Together with the neighbouring Leek Moors SSSI, it supports a nationally and internationally important upland breeding bird population. Goyt Valley lies within the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation and the Peak District Moors Special Protection Area.”

Mr Hall was prosecuted under section 28P(1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 as substituted by Schedule 9 to the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000. Natural England, as the government’s environment adviser, is responsible for the protection of SSSIs and works with landowners and managers to help achieve this.

It has regulatory powers to prevent damaging operations from taking place on SSSIs and where damage does occur it can take appropriate enforcement action, including prosecuting offenders.