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Environment Agency launches urgent probe after farmer bulldozed Herefordshire riverside beauty spot

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A farmer who used a 16-ton bulldozer to destroy a riverside beauty spot has said he acted to protect local homes from flooding.

John Price – a local potato and cattle farmer – dredged a section of the river Lugg near Leominster in Hertfordshire and reportedly stripped a mile-long stretch of the bank of trees and bushes.

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency launched an urgent investigation into the matter.

John Price – a local potato and cattle farmer – dredged a section of the river Lugg (pictured) near Leominster in Hertfordshire and stripped a mile-long stretch of the bank of trees and bushes

However last night Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year’s floods.

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed. 

Claiming he acted with permission, Mr Price said: ‘I’m a Herefordshire farmer and have lived at Hay Farm and was born here at home. I have never moved and have watched this river all my life and no one knows this river better than myself. 

‘I have always looked after the river. I was asked to stop the erosion because I’m the land owner so I’m responsible for the river.

‘It was up to the Environmental Agency to look after these rivers but they don’t do any work and haven’t got any money to do the work because they spend it all on clipboards.

‘I have not pushed any trees out and I haven’t knocked any trees down I have only cleared what ones came down in the flood.’  

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency launched an urgent investigation into the matter

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency launched an urgent investigation into the matter

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river (pictured) to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river (pictured) to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed

Pictured is a general view of a stretch of the River Lugg in the area. This is how it would have looked before

Pictured is a general view of a stretch of the River Lugg in the area. This is how it would have looked before 

He added that the flooding had been getting worse over the last 10 years and that he had the support of the village and parish council in doing the work.    

The Environment Agency said it was taking the matter ‘very seriously’ and had launched an urgent investigation. 

Environmentalists – including BBC Gardener’s World host Monty Don – were yesterday in shock at the ‘complete obliteration’ of a site of Special Scientific Interest, home to otter, Atlantic salmon, brook lamprey, and water crowfoot. 

Don, whose Longmeadow cottage garden – the filming base for Gardener’s World -lies a few miles from the stretch of the river in Herefordshire, tweeted: ‘It breaks my heart but (it) is all too-typical of the ignorance, arrogance and sheer wanton destruction of those privileged to care for our countryside.’ 

Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year's floods

Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year’s floods

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene (pictured)

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene (pictured)

One resident whose home was flooded last year told the publication that Mr Price took on the work because the EA refused to listen to their appeals.       

She said: ‘John has acted in the best interests of the local community.’ 

Another villager said: ‘During last year’s storms, all the cottages near the river flooded and some are still not ready for people to go back into.

‘The Environment Agency were asked again and again to sort the river out but it didn’t happen.

‘I think John just got sick and tired of waiting for another flood and just did what he had to do.’ 

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (pictured), said: 'This is nothing short of a tragedy'

Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, (pictured) said: 'We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (pictured left), said: ‘This is nothing short of a tragedy’. Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, (pictured right) said: ‘We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene.

Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, said: ‘We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status.

‘We are treating this very seriously along with Natural England and the Forestry Commission who have taken immediate action in an attempt to prevent any further works at the site.’

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘This is nothing short of a tragedy that will have dire consequences for the wildlife and water quality downstream. This is not about protecting the local area fromfloods, in my opinion the work that has been done will actually have the opposite effect.’ 

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