Environment Agency faces questions over works on protected river

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Environment agency officials were under pressure on Monday to explain exactly what consent they gave to carry out extensive work on the banks of a protected river in England.

Officials from the EA, Natural England and the Forestry Commission moved in last week to stop the work along the River Lugg outside Kingsland, near Leominster in Herefordshire.

The officials – along with the police – issued a stop notice to the landowner, John Price, to halt the works, which the local wildlife trust said had devastated the river and would have dire consequences for wildlife and water quality.

The EA said a legal notice requiring the works to stop immediately was served on the landowner by Natural England earlier last week, the Forestry Commission issued a stop letter requiring an end to any further felling work and the Environment Agency requested no further works to be carried out on the river.

But the landowner Price, a potato and cattle farmer, has insisted that he was asked to do the work by the EA to try to tackle flooding in the area.

On Monday the local parish council told the Guardian it had been in discussion with the EA since July about tackling the flooding in the area. EA officials had attended parish council meetings and walked the site in September.

The EA wrote a short report seen by the Guardian. It said: “We have identified that some tree works are required on the left hand bank directly upstream of the bridge (see picture 0141) which we will again look to secure funding for and if successful make the land owner aware of our intentions.

“In addition the left hand bank directly upstream of the bridge could do some reprofiling due to bank slumping probably as a result of cattle poaching (see picture 0132) to ease conveyance as it is currently partially obstructing the 3rd arch of the bridge and will look to the land owner to carry out these works.”

The EA said on Monday it was continuing to investigate the damage to a river which is protected as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and a special area of conservation (SAC). As such no work should be carried out without permission from the EA.

Minutes of parish council meetings confirm that the EA was in discussions with the council about flooding and what work was required to alleviate it.

Minutes of Kingsland parish council meetings from July, September and October of this year contain items about the “maintenance of the Lugg”.

In minutes of a meeting in July concerns were expressed about the risk of river flooding and reference made to discussions with the EA on maintenance of the Lugg.

The minutes detail verbal discussions with the EA. “The levels reached during the floods earlier this year were the highest since 1976. Due to the Covid-19 situation, the riverbank has not been walked since the floods, however this is due to be done soon.

“Dredging can be done where there is a need, but need to keep in mind the dynamic nature of the river which moves the bed levels anyway (diverse nature of river flow).”

In October reference was made to the site visit in September with an EA official. “Cllr Rowsell reported on “a very useful” walkabout with the Environment Agency. Mr W Best, Environment Agency informed the meeting that riparian owners are responsible for maintenance but accepted that this may be beyond their capability at times and provided a helpline number.”

A spokesperson for the parish council said on Monday they were not aware whether the EA had given the landowner official permission to carry out the works.

He said: “We would not be told whether a permit had been issued for the works. The parish council supports work to improve the Lugg to help with flood alleviation measures. Environment Agency officials have been present in parish council meetings to discuss flood alleviation measures.”

Price, of Hay Farm, told the Daily Telegraph, he had acted with permission.

“I have watched this river all my life, and no one knows this river better than myself,” he said.

“I have always looked after the river. I was asked to stop the erosion because I’m the landowner so I’m responsible for the river.”

He said he had not uprooted any trees, but had only cleared those that had come down in floods.

He said flooding in the area had been getting worse over the last 10 years, and that he had the support of the village and parish council in doing the work.

The Environment Agency was asked for a comment. It had not been provided at the time of publication.

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