• Outdoors Outdoors

Millionaire faces massive fine after bulldozing over mile of waterway near home: 'Ecological vandalism on an industrial scale'

"In truth, no amount of money will bring the habitats and species back."

"In truth, no amount of money will bring the habitats and species back."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

If flood risk is your problem, the solution is not to remove trees and other wildlife habitat. Just ask this millionaire, who ended up behind bars for doing just that.

John Price, a wealthy U.K. farmer, landed a one-year jail sentence last year, The Independent reported, though he served only 11 weeks after the punishment was cut to 10 months. His crime was dredging the bed and removing trees along one mile of the River Lugg in Herefordshire, England, in 2020.

He apparently did not learn from it, as he was fined again in January for having trees, including some as old as 50 years, cut down in 2022.

The second offense was not as serious as the previous one, and it resulted in a £2,060 judgment. Price felled 41.7 cubic meters of trees, more than eight times what is allowed by the Forestry Act 1967, the Hereford Times reported.

The River Lugg is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; Price said he was trying to prevent flooding on his and other properties during the offense for which he was jailed in 2023. He was ordered to pay £655,000 for restoration work and £600,000 in prosecution costs and was banned from being a company director for three years. He is reportedly worth £25 million.

Judge Ian Strongman of Kidderminster Magistrates Court said Price committed "ecological vandalism on an industrial scale" by creating "a canal devoid of life." The area is home to otters, kingfishers, trout, salmon, and other fauna. 

The work was likely counterproductive as well. Trees and other flora in woodlands provide cover from rainfall and improve drainage, which helps prevent flooding, according to the Woodland Trust. Trees and bushes use their leaves and roots to intercept water, disperse it, and aid infiltration.

At least some neighbors defended Price, but even dredging — which seems like a good idea to reduce flooding — can increase such problems, especially downstream. 

"It is predicted it will take decades to re-establish mature trees to provide the stability, cover and shade to restore the diversity of the river," the U.K. Environment Agency, which helped bring the charges, said.

"Fish, plants, native crayfish, and birds may take years to make a gradual return to previous populations."

The Environment Agency and Natural England, the other plaintiff in the case, published photos showing the destruction. Lush, wild greenery gave way to barren banks of dirt and rocks.

Most frustratingly, Price's actions are not uncommon. One Australian cleared national park land for a driveway, while a Connecticut politician eviscerated wetlands for a better view

"The River Lugg is one of the most iconic rivers in the UK, and to see this wanton destruction take place was devastating," Natural England area manager Emma Johnson said.

Another conservationist was more despondent. "In truth, no amount of money will bring the habitats and species back," Miles King said.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider