A tenant farmer must pay more than £112,000 after he illegally felled 200 veteran beech hedgerow trees on farmland he previously rented.
Keith Smith, 63, was prosecuted by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) at Newport Magistrates Court on 15 September for felling the trees in January 2017 at Pen Y Fan Farm, Blackwood, Caerphilly, without a licence.
He was fined twice the amenity and commercial value of the trees, and was made to pay £6,945 in costs to NRW and a £170 victim surcharge fee. Mr Smith did not appear in court and sentencing was completed in his absence.
NRW launched an investigation after discovering the remains of approximately 200 trees that had been providing a valuable habitat and important travel corridor for wildlife.
NRW said it would never have issued a licence to remove the trees, covering an area of about 200sq m, adding that their loss was devastating.
The legal limit of trees allowed to be felled by a landowner in one calendar quarter without a licence is 5sq m.
Mr Smith admitted to felling the trees without a licence with his two sons, but claimed he was approached by a representative of one of the current tenants, Guildemeister, to fell the trees for £5,000.
NRW believed this to be false and that Mr Smith felled the trees as a deliberate act for financial gain.
Guildemeister, which has been granted planning permission to build a 4.1MW solar farm on the land, also denied Mr Smith’s claim.
In court, Mohammed Yakub, prosecuting on behalf of NRW, said there was no financial gain for the company to fell the trees, and instead wanted the trees to remain as screening for the solar panels.
Mr Yakub added that it was believed Mr Smith felled the trees as an act of revenge after failing to get planning permission to start a business on the land in question, and subsequently objecting to the solar panel proposals, according to the Caerphilly Observer.
Following the investigation the timber has been stopped from entering the open market.
NRW executive director Tim Jones said: “The loss of these veteran trees, which were hundreds of years old, is devastating and it will take many generations for new trees to grow to replace them, if they grow at all.
“Like many things in our environment, trees are often taken for granted. Felling licences are part of the system we have in place so we can manage our trees and woodlands effectively, protecting them and making sure they continue to benefit us all now and into the future.”