Natural England knows best?

JP1

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Pony breeder, 80, hits out at Natural England over claims his herd was eating too much grass
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Bill Potter, one of the last remaining breeders of endangered Fell ponies, was charged with breaching the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
Bill Potter, one of the last remaining breeders of endangered Fell ponies, was charged with breaching the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM/CHARLOTTE GRAHAM


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7 SEPTEMBER 2019 • 10:00PM
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An 80-year-old pony breeder has hit out at Natural England for putting him through a six-year legal battle, which he says left him terrified he would be jailed, over claims his herd was eating too much grass on a protected common.
Bill Potter, one of the last remaining breeders of endangered Fell ponies, said he was severely depressed after being charged with breaching the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
He was accused of overgrazing his 24 ponies on the 1,800-acre Birkbeck Fells Common in Cumbria, which the Potter farming family has been licensed to use since the 1960s.
Their ponies have been grazing there for more than 50 years, but Natural England intervened after they designated the land a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1988.
This meant it was considered to have particularly valuable wildlife, geology or landform, and gives it legal protection under the 1981 Act.
The row prompted a campaign by angry locals to crowdfund money to help Mr Potter defend himself in court.
Mr Potter was charged with committing 11 breaches of the 1981 Act - six related to his ponies and five related to sheep he had been grazing on Crosby Ravensworth Common since 2006.
He was said to have carried out activities - including grazing, feeding his herd and using vehicles on the land - without Natural England’s consent, and caused damage to special vegetation.
Mr Potter was convicted of all 11 breaches, fined £1,320 and ordered to pay costs of £15,000 at Carlisle Magistrates Court in September 2018.
But his convictions were quashed by a crown court judge and the fine set aside after he reached an out of court settlement with Natural England.
As part of the settlement, Mr Potter agreed to relinquish his grazing rights to a third party - his son.
“When charged, I was very depressed even suicidal. I am still under my GP for depression,” he told The Telegraph.
Mr Potter was said to have carried out activities - including grazing, feeding his herd and using vehicles on the land - without Natural England’s consent

Mr Potter was said to have carried out activities - including grazing, feeding his herd and using vehicles on the land - without Natural England’s consent CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM/CHARLOTTE GRAHAM
He said he was grateful that he didn't have to go through the stress of appealing his convictions.
“I was relieved as I wasn’t well and it had gone on long enough - I even thought I would have to go to jail," he said.
Mr Potter's solicitor Elyned Ashcroft said after the settlement: "To say, as Natural England has, that he was overgrazing is utterly ludicrous.
“We had expert opinion that there was no damage to the environment caused by Fell ponies. In fact, they are part of the bio-diversity that SSSIs are designed to protect.”
She said Mr Potter had been on the Fell Pony Council for more than 30 years and grazing his herd on a native heath was "as natural as finding Giant Pandas in bamboo forests in China".
Ms Ashcroft, who describes her client as a "genuine countryside character", added: “This case has shown disingenuousness by Natural England.
“Why on earth did they relentlessly pursue an octogenarian, with no record, through the courts for no reason other than grazing his endangered herd of Fell ponies?"
The case prompted accusations that Natural England had wasted public money on prosecuting an elderly man and were heavy-handed in their response.
Mr Potter had been on the Fell Pony Council for more than 30 years and his lawyer said grazing his herd on a native heath was as natural as finding Giant Pandas in bamboo forests in China

Mr Potter had been on the Fell Pony Council for more than 30 years and his lawyer said grazing his herd on a native heath was "as natural as finding Giant Pandas in bamboo forests in China" CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM/CHARLOTTE GRAHAM
Sarah Lee, Head of Policy at the Countryside Alliance, said: “In situations such as Mr Potter’s we always believe it is much better for Natural England to work with land managers rather than to drag an elderly man through the court system.
"This looks very much like Natural England using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. This was a waste of public money, a waste of Natural England’s time and common sense should have prevailed long before it got to court.”
Mr Potter's family said they were relieved his conviction had been quashed but the stress of legal action had "left its mark" on him as he was trying to enjoy his retirement.
In a statement, they added: “It is now for Natural England and the Government to reflect on whether the huge costs they have incurred in pursuing Mr Potter and in bringing these charges represent a sensible use of taxpayers’ money.”
Helen Kirkby, Natural England’s Area Manager for Cumbria, said: “Natural England is supportive of Fell Ponies as an important part of the cultural heritage of the area and for the conservation benefits they can bring through appropriate grazing. However, too many animals in the wrong place can damage upland habitats.
“We are always disappointed by having to resolve matters through the courts, so we are very pleased that we have been able to reach an agreement with Mr Potter about the future management of ponies on the fells.
“We look forward to working closely with the new occupier and the other holders of commons rights to ensure that the wildlife on the fells can thrive in the future.”
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delilah

Member
Natural England are a joke. The NNR in our village - a site of international importance specifically because it is grazed chalk grassland - has had 4 different graziers in the last 12 years due to NE being totally inept landlords. The result being that they have run out of farmers to approach locally, have given the contract to graze it to an outfit from 100 or so miles away, they have been unable to find anyone to do the lookering, so no cattle have arrived as yet this year and it looks a bloody mess. Shambolic.
 
My fourth, yes 4th court appearance scheduled for tomorrow morning Exeter crown court. 7.5 years and still counting the cost of ever having anything to do with a NE administered scheme.
Good luck and my sympathies with you. Let us all know how you get on and if this is the final resolution.
Many of us who are in these Schemes are lucky we are not in the same position as you. In many ways the present situation where no one knows who is making the rules any more makes it just a bigger mess and we may all end up in court!!
 

An Gof

Member
Location
Cornwall
I am seen as something of a Luddite for having nothing to do with environmental schemes. I weakened once with the initial ELS scheme and couldn’t get out of it fast enough after 5 years.
The schemes are effectively run by NGO’s with a rather nasty agenda. They should be avoided at all costs.
 
Good luck and my sympathies with you. Let us all know how you get on and if this is the final resolution.
Many of us who are in these Schemes are lucky we are not in the same position as you. In many ways the present situation where no one knows who is making the rules any more makes it just a bigger mess and we may all end up in court!!
Believe you me, they are a mess. Today was a further waste of time and tax payer resources.....the main event is scheduled for late January 2020 and today N E suggested the court increase the trial slot to accommodate a possible two week case.....am I bovvvered?
 
Believe you me, they are a mess. Today was a further waste of time and tax payer resources.....the main event is scheduled for late January 2020 and today N E suggested the court increase the trial slot to accommodate a possible two week case.....am I bovvvered?
Are you being helped by NFU/CLA/TFA?
 
My fourth, yes 4th court appearance scheduled for tomorrow morning Exeter crown court. 7.5 years and still counting the cost of ever having anything to do with a NE administered scheme.
good luck, I think never getting involved with statutory authorities is a good idea, it's just it seem so appealing when they dangle grants.
 
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Tubbylew

Member
Location
Herefordshire
Anyone ever read “A Shameful Harvest” by AG Street ?
Somethings never change....except the ending I trust. It’s a very worthwhile read, I thoroughly recommend you read.
+1, can't recommend it enough, one of the few books i've read thats stuck in the back of my mind.
 

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