Tuesday, 22 June 2021

UK Farmer fined for Ploughing Prehistoric Site.


How do you assess archaeological damage financially? The BBC is reporting: 'Devon farmer fined for ploughing historical land', 21st June 2021.
A farmer has been fined for ploughing over a site thought to contain protected Iron Age remains. Andrew Cooper admitted defying a stop order after experts found evidence of important archaeological remains. He used heavy ploughing equipment on fields at Baggy Point in north Devon, near other known Iron Age sites. The judge at Exeter Crown Court said it was a "deliberate, flagrant breaching of the law" and ordered him to pay more than £30,000 in a fine and costs [...]. He ordered Cooper to serve five months in prison in default if he did not pay the fine by 21 October.
What seems to be involved here is a case that was in court earlier this year (Court Reporter, 'Braunton farmer admits ploughing up 'semi natural' land', North Devon Gazette April 8, 2021) that is reported as involving something else in fact:
A farmer has admitted breaking an order not to plough or graze animals on protected land which had been designated for conservation by Natural England. Andrew Cooper pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court after a judge ruled that he was not able to challenge the legality of the order which prevented him using fields at his North Devon farm in this way. Judge Peter Johnson told him that the only issue was whether he had complied with a stop notice and that he had no viable defence because he [...] admitted breaking a stop notice by grazing animals, partially ploughing, and used lime or other fertilisers on the land. He had been planning to conduct his own defence on the grounds that Natural England’s order was not valid [...] The prosecution at Exeter Crown Court was brought by Natural England, which imposed the stop order on October 20, 2017 [...] to protect what they classified as 'uncultivated, semi-natural areas'. Judge Johnson adjourned sentence until June and asked Cooper to provide a document setting out his mitigation along with any references in advance of the next hearing.
The court appearance reported by the BBC is presumably this sentencing. Perhaps he should have challenged the environmental protection order in a court of law before he started ripping into it rather than presenting the court with a fait accompli. I had a case like that in the days when I worked in the Ministry of Culture here, it did not end well for the farmer there either. 

In the case of the Baggy Point case, it is interesting that both the BBC and at least one other report focus not on the damage to the natural habitat, but the cultural damage caused by disturbing the archaeological remains the disputed area contains. See Paul Greaves, 'Braunton farmer fined for ploughing up historically important field' Devon Live 21st June 2021). Here it gives the impression that a land-user (not the landowner) was challenging archaeological assessments of what his land contained.
Cooper refused to accept evidence of its significance and for the last eight years has been in dispute with Natural England about the use of the fields [...] The court was told the defendant had spent years in dispute with authorities, leading to 'eyewatering' legal costs of a third of a million pounds. Judge Peter Johnson warned him that more legal action would likely be taken if he continued to flout the law. "This was a deliberate and flagrant breach of the law with the defendant knowing exactly what he was doing," he said. "There has been not a jot of remorse on the part of the defendant. [...] Cooper had been a tenant farmer at Croyde Hoe Farm for 30 years. The land itself is owned by the National Trust and falls within an designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Cooper ploughed and planted fields on the land which experts said was archaeologically significant. He was ordered to stop by Natural England in September 2017. Cooper ignored the Stop Notice and continued to plough and lime most of a neighbouring field as well by March 2018. Cooper, who represented himself in court, pleaded guilty to breaching the Stop Notice. He was fined £7,500 with five months’ imprisonment in default of payment and ordered to pay £24,000 costs. He told the judge there were no known features on the land and disputed Natural England's involvement. He said surveys had not found anything very exciting.
So, if this is what was said in court, another member of the public claiming to know more about archaeology than the archaeologists. The two texts referring to the archaeology of the region cannot agree whether it is Iron Age or earlier (see the flint scatters in the NT resource cited below for an explanation of that)... Access to information on a Mesolithic site at Baggy Point is accessible through Heritage Gateway and there is a National Trust site with interactive maps on the archaeology of the region here. 

Let us hope that as pressure on them increase, environmental and heritage watchdogs continue to keep a watch on the constant nibbling away of what remains of Britain's natural and cultural landscapes and where applicable the courts continue to uphold orders issued to protect them. 


Paul Barford said...

Request for my email address replied to and comment deleted as politely requested, expecting the lady wanted to talk about the destruction of the natural and cultural environment. Turns out to be a solicitor threatening me on behalf of an antiquities dealer wanting the address to send me some scary looking attachments and threats.... Happy Father's Day to you too lady. What a job, eh? Defending the commercialised ripping apart of the heritage. Still, she's doing her job, I'm doing mine and I happen to think I am trying to preserve something far more precious than what she's devoting her time and intellect to.

Hougenai said...

Where are The National Trust in all ths? The land is in ELS/HLS and any management agreed with DEFRA/Natural England will also be fixed in his Farm Tannancy Agreement. Any breach could and should result the landlord taking action against the tennent farmer.
Perhaps there has been some unreported behind the scenes action but transparency isn't obvious in cases such as this.

Third party damage to SSSI's is notoriously complex in the legal sense and in my experience NE tend to shy away from legal solutions, preferring negotiated settlements. Stop notices that NE have the legislative power to issue for operations on designated land are unambiguous and as we see here, Mr Cooper is bang to rights (The process itself is rather longwinded with various stages such as Notice of intent to serve(including a 28 day reply period). This guy has tried really hard to have his day in court.
The article doesn't say whether he will appeal, so this may not be the end.

Horsesmouth said...

The land in question is not SSSI, the land is not in any els or hls agreement. The land exited a css agreement in sept. 2012 at term end. There is no recognised “settlement site” of any historic era. Just subject to archaeological exaggeration by a DCC deskbound assessor specialising in “red herrings.”
The land has been farmed for centuries. This is certainly not a conclusion.

Paul Barford said...

Not a dealer's solicitor this time... Good. I look forward to hearing more about the fate of this case.

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