A COURT has ordered an Allithwaite farmer to pay more than £12,500 after he installed drainage pipes in protected agricultural land.

Richard Whitton pleaded guilty at Kendal Magistrates’ Court to disturbing the ‘exceptionally rare’ farmland at the Miller Beck wildlife site near Newby Bridge.

The court heard that the site - noted for grassland which has not undergone agricultural improvement - is registered as one of the most important wildlife sites in Cumbria and nationally.

Mr Whitton was fined by magistrates for failing to comply with a ‘land remediation notice’, issued under the Environmental Impact Agriculture Regulations 2006, for the Miller Beck site.

The court heard that he installed a number of underground pipes on the land which drained water into Miller Beck. Natural England was alerted and when staff visited the site they discovered the pipes. He was served a legal notice to remove them but failed to do so.

Mr Whitton pleaded guilty for failing to comply with the terms of the remediation notice. Magistrates fined him £2,500 and ordered him to pay £10,000 costs and a £250 victim surcharge.

After the case, Janette Ward, Natural England’s regulation director said: “We are always disappointed by having to bring prosecutions, as it means that some of England’s most important wildlife has been damaged. We hope that the affected area will now be able to recover as far as possible and look forward to working closely with Mr Whitton so that the land can be returned to its original condition”.

The EIA regulations protect semi-natural areas of land such as heathland, wildflower-rich meadows and pasture, and land that has not been physically or chemically cultivated in the previous 15 years.

Farmers may need to apply for a decision from Natural England if planned work would change this status. For further information contact the EIA helpline on 0800-028-2140 or visit the Natural England website.