A Perthshire farmer and his contractor have been fined more than £7,000 for destroying the eggs of protected brown trout in a bungled attempt to prevent his fields from flooding.

Tenant farmer Charles Wellwood of Hattonburn Farm, Milnathort, ordered contractors to dredge a burn after his land was flooded repeatedly after several years of heavy rain.

But his efforts resulted in five known brown trout spawning areas at Hatton Burn, Perthshire – one of Scotland’s top fishing lochs – being destroyed.

Perth Sheriff Court heard Mr Wellwood asked John Meiklem Drainage Contractors to carry out work on the burn without seeking permission from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

See also: Dredging plans challenged by environmentalists

Sepa officers were called to the site after a local resident reported the engineering work, fearing the burn was being seriously damaged.

The burn is an important spawning area for brown trout within Loch Leven, a protected area and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Officers found nearly 128m of the river bed had been removed, along with sections of the river bank and natural vegetation which is crucial to the ecology of the watercourse.

They also discovered that protected habitats and breeding grounds for brown trout had been damaged, in addition to recently laid brown trout eggs.

“While not all drainage works require approval by Sepa, we would strongly encourage anyone considering this scale of activity to seek advice on best practice guidelines, to help avoid incidents such as this in the future.”
Carla Ward, Sepa reporting officer

Mr Wellwood admitted causing or permitting the offence, while Mr Meiklems admitted carrying out the excavation work to dredge and widen the burn.

Both admitted carrying out unauthorised excavation of the waterway in November 2012, removing trees and vegetation and destroying brown trout eggs.

Mr Wellwood, whose family has been farming the land for almost 50 years, was fined £3,400, while John Meiklem Drainage Contractors was fined £3,750.

They could have faced maximum fines of £40,000, but Sheriff Mhairi MacTaggart said she limited it after being given a supportive letter from Loch Leven landowner Sir David Montgomery

Sepa reporting officer Carla Ward said the lowering a watercourse bed can have significant impacts on the environment and in many cases only reduced the risk of flooding temporarily.

“Had Sepa been approached for authorisation prior to work commencing, much of the damage caused to the Hatton Burn could have been avoided, including the impact on spawning fish,” she said.

“While not all drainage works require approval by Sepa, we would strongly encourage anyone considering this scale of activity to seek advice on best practice guidelines, to help avoid incidents such as this in the future.”

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