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Police and environment agency staff have moved in to stop further damage being done to a protected river, after what one witness described as one of the most egregious acts of ecological vandalism in 25 years.
A mile-long stretch of the River Lugg outside Kingsland, near Leominster in Herefordshire, has been flattened by a bulldozer. Trees have been felled, the river straightened and the river bed damaged.
Guy Linley-Adams, a lawyer for the charity Salmon and Trout Conservation, who lives nearby, witnessed the destruction to the river, which is protected as an SSSI, site of special scientific interest.
He called for prosecution of those responsible. “This is one of the most egregious acts of ecological vandalism that I have seen in 25 years of working on rivers in the UK,” he said. “I have been on site and I am shaking with anger at what has been done to my local river.
“There can be no excuse if the perpetrator is not now prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. His financial assets should also be taken to pay to restore the river, a restoration that will take decades.”
Environment Agency staff, West Mercia police, officials from Natural England and the Forestry Commission moved in to stop further damage on Friday.
Dave Throup, the area environment manager for the Environment Agency (EA), said: “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. We are mounting a wide-ranging investigation with Natural England, the Forestry Commission and other partners. We are unable to comment further at this stage.”
Throup tweeted: “Fourteen specialist officers from the Environment Agency, Natural England, Forestry Commission, West Mercia police and Herefordshire council now on site gathering information and evidence.”
Critics said more should have been done to halt the destruction last week, on 26 November when the EA was first alerted to activity taking place on the river bank. It is understood the event was designated a category 1 incident; an event which has a serious, extensive or persistent impact on the environment.
But it was not until significant damage had been done that the EA and other officials used their powers of entry to stop the destruction, which environmentalists said would take decades to repair.
The river is protected as it is an important habitat for salmon, otters, lamprey, dragonfly and crayfish. The protection also covers the way the river meanders through the countryside. But after several days of activity, the river banks have been flattened, gravel has been scraped from the riverbed, and the gentle curve of the river has been straightened.
Helen Stace, the chief executive of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “A large stretch of one of the UK’s most important rivers, the Lugg, has been devastated with dire consequences for wildlife and water quality downstream. This is a tragedy.
“This is a crime against the environment. Swift action needs to be taken and we want to see the authorities investigate the matter swiftly. 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 restoration of the river to its natural channel.”
TV gardener Monty Don, who lives in near Leominster, told local newspaper the Hereford Times: “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.”
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