Farmer jailed for hiring diggers to illegally rip up trees speaks out

Farmer jailed for hiring diggers to illegally rip up trees along river bank speaks out after he is freed from prison and says works were needed to stop flooding

  • John Price, 68, was jailed earlier this year after uprooting trees on the River Lugg

A farmer who was jailed after hiring diggers to clear a riverbank of trees in what he claimed was an attempt to spare locals from flooding continues to insist he did nothing wrong after being freed from prison.

John Price, who farms cattle, potatoes and cereals, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in April after he pleaded guilty to seven charges summed up by a judge as ‘ecological vandalism on an industrial scale’ on the River Lugg.

The 68-year-old was ordered to pay £1.2million in costs after District Judge Ian Strongman said his actions – including removing gravel and silt along one of the country’s most important salmon rivers – turned the waterway ‘into a canal’.

He was released after spending three months behind bars – and remains resolute that he did the right thing by his local community in Kingsland, near Leominster in Herefordshire after villages in the area were hit hard by Storm Dennis in 2020.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Price said the Environment Agency had potentially misunderstood his good intentions in removing trees from the banks of the Lugg – and criticised the body for a perceived lack of inaction on floods.

John Price, pictured in 2020 after he began clearing trees from the side of the River Lugg in Herefordshire

Price hired diggers to enter the Lugg and remove trees in what he said was an attempt to reduce the risk of flooding

However, he was sentenced to a year in prison after uprooting 71 trees and causing damage that experts say could take decades to undo

Price’s actions sparked a police and Environment Agency investigation (pictured: police vehicles and Environment Agency officers at the riverside in December 2020)

He said: ‘Of course it (clearing the banks of the river) was the right thing to do because it helped to stop erosion. I didn’t do anything wrong.’

Price, who has farmed fields since he was a teenager, said that he was driven to act on the rivers because of his autism – adding that he doesn’t like ‘a mess on the rivers’.

He continued: ‘I reckon what I’ve done will come right. They’re (the Environment Agency) going to have to do what they’ve put me in prison for. They’re gonna have to do it on every other river.’

READ MORE: Should this well meaning, elderly farmer really have been sent to jail with drug dealers and rapists for damaging a riverbank? 

Price’s actions saw 71 mature trees completely uprooted with 24 felled, and vast amounts of silt discharged into the river.

The Environment Agency and Natural England said the habitats of otters, kingfishers and trouts were destroyed, adding that the riverside could take decades to recover.

Some of the charges Price was convicted of related to the fact that the Lugg is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which affords it certain legal protections under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Price was sentenced to 12 months in prison, slapped with a seven figure bill for legal and restoration costs, and banned from operating as a company director for three years. He later had the sentence reduced to 10 months.

Sentencing him in April, Judge Strongman said: ‘Any person could not fail to be dismayed by the devastation caused by Mr Price – he has turned it into a canal devoid of most life. It is ecological vandalism on an industrial scale.

‘It was a desire to reduce the risk of flooding. Some residents who live nearby are grateful for Mr Price for taking this action.’

Speaking after the case, Emma Johnson, area manager for Natural England, said Price had caused ‘wanton destruction’ requiring it to take action ‘as a stark warning to others’.

Martin Quine, Environment Agency place manager for Herefordshire, added: ‘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.’

Price continues to insist that he did the right thing and his actions will be borne out with the passage of time

A section of the River Lugg near the area that was later cleared by Price using a hired digger

Images released by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust show the bank completely devoid of trees

Price, pictured at home in December 2020, is held in high regard by locals who believe his efforts have allayed flooding in the area 

However, Natural England maintains that his act of ‘wanton destruction’ compelled it to act in bringing him to court

Even BBC Gardeners’ World legend Monty Don had his say, calling Price’s actions ‘all too-typical of the ignorance, arrogance and sheer wanton destruction of those privileged to care for our countryside.’

However, Price was supported by members of the local community after his conviction and detention.

Some told the Mail that heavy rainfall that came after he cleared the banks failed to have the same devastating effect as Storm Dennis – for which they credited the well-known local farmer. 

Villager Kelly Flook said earlier this year: ‘He (Price) solved the problem of the water backing up beyond the bridge, which devastated our life here. How can I not be grateful to him?’

The Reverend Julie Read, vicar of the village of Kingsland, told Farmers Weekly that people who lived by the river were ‘very thankful’ to him.

However, she added: ‘John is always very willing to help, but he maybe went too far.’

Other local residents told the magazine that Price’s treatment at the hands of the authorities had been ‘disgusting’.

Price added that his time in prison, locked up at Hewell Prison near Redditch, had been equally unpleasant.

‘There’s no air in the prison,’ he said. ‘June was really hot. You couldn’t hardly breathe in there.’ 

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