Linklog entries in April 2023

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Farmer jailed for damage to River Lugg 

There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the case of the farmer, John Price, who has been sentenced to a year in prison for destroying a section of the River Lugg in Herefordshire.

Due to the high public interest, I thought it might be helpful to share the Judge’s Sentencing Remarks – it’s a 10 page PDF.

This is how the Judge summarised the farmer’s actions:

He has turned a traditional, tree lined, meandering river, full of wildlife, into a canal void of most life. It is nothing short of ecological vandalism on an industrial scale.

The BBC published an excellent summary of the case, highlighting Price’s many previous misdemeanours and offences. Price even ignored a stop notice by Natural England when carrying out this damage. The Judge said:

He seems to adopt the attitude that the rules do not apply to him.

When someone from the Wye and Usk Foundation saw the damage Price was doing and photographed and videoed it from a public footpath, Price pursued them for nearly 12 miles, driving aggressively, flashing lights and shouting for them to get out of their car. The Judge notes that Price had a “history of hostility” towards officials. This behaviour is relevant because the Judge said:

A significant aggravating factor in this case is Mr Price’s repeated aggressive and uncooperative attitude towards officials.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this case has sparked a debate about river ecology and flooding. There are farmers, like the YouTuber Olly Harrison, who insist that rivers are like gutters which need to be cleaned out. Over 10,000 people have signed a petition saying that Price “did the most amazing job clearing the banks and dredging the bottom of the River Lugg”. They believe Price was reducing the risk of flooding to local homes and acting in the public interest. On this, the Judge was crystal-clear that Price’s actions will have had the opposite effect:

In fact, Mr Price’s actions have made matters worse. The channel is deeper, wider and straighter which increases flow rate and volume as it approaches the road bridge which still provides a choke point for the water. The riverbanks have been denuded by the removal of trees and vegetation. It seems to me, that the praise of Mr Price’s remodelling of the river by some local residents arises out of a total ignorance of the true impact of his actions to nature and the environment.

There is clearly a need (and an opportunity) for public education here. Perhaps other farmers, the Environment Agency, Natural England and environmental organisations like the Rivers Trust and the Wildlife Trusts could put out content explaining why what Price has done will worsen the risk of flooding. By ripping up mature trees which would have acted as a buffer, Price has increased the amount of soil and silt that will now wash into the river.

The Judge wanted this sentence to mark the seriousness of damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest and serve as a deterrent to others. Whilst some think a 1 year sentence is harsh, it’s worth considering that last week a Just Stop Oil protestor received a 3 year prison sentence for seeking to protect the natural world.

Monday, 3 April 2023

Red Tractor farms are more likely to pollute the environment 

I have an exclusive story in The Times today exposing a damning report from the Environment Agency (EA) about the Red Tractor scheme.

Last year I wrote a story for the Guardian about an EA report that I discovered from North Devon which was condemnatory of pollution caused by the dairy industry & the Red Tractor scheme.

In the wake of that story, I decided to keep digging and submitted a Freedom of Information request to the EA for all correspondence between them and Red Tractor.

Earlier this year, I received a response with tens of email attachments. I spent hours scanning through mundane emails before finding that one of the emails contained an attachment: an internal report authored by the Environment Agency in 2020 titled ‘Assessment of the environmental performance of Red Tractor Assured farms’. It runs to around 50 pages and is a significant piece of work. I had no idea such a report existed.

The contents are shocking. It concluded that “Red Tractor Assured farms were less compliant (26%) with EA inspections compared to non-RTA farms (19%)”. In other words, Red Tractor farms were more likely to fail EA environmental inspections than farms who aren’t members of the scheme. That’s the case for nearly every agricultural sector — including dairy, beef, pigs, poultry and arable crops — with RTA members being found to have lower compliance with environmental regulations. The one exception was Red Tractor farms growing fruit and veg in the horticulture sector which were found to have “relatively good” environmental performance.

The report also says Red Tractor farms have caused more serious pollution incidents than non-Red Tractor farms.

The EA report concluded, “Red Tractor membership is not currently an indicator of good environmental performance, and therefore we do not recommend extending Earned Recognition to RTA farms.”

The concept of ‘earned recognition’ means that if the EA could be confident that an assurance scheme guaranteed high standards of environmental protection, it could consider such farms lower risk for causing pollution and depriorotise them for regulatory inspections.

The Red Tractor logo is meant to assure consumers that its products are ‘farmed with care’. It’s even running TV adverts at the moment, voiced by Sara Cox, saying: “When the Red Tractor’s there, your food’s farmed with care”.

Can you trust the Tractor? The Environment Agency don’t think so.