THE COURT of Appeal has upheld the designation of 12,150ha (30,000 acres) of arable land as a “protected” wildlife site – despite a challenge from a leading East Anglia farmer.

Patrick Fisher of Kilverstone Hall, near Thetford, had argued that the designation by English Nature, the government‘s wildlife agency, was unnecessary and irrational and infringed the rights of owners to enjoy their land.

But Court of Appeal judges ruled on Weds, May 26 that the decision was “properly taken and is challenge-proof”.

Mr Fisher and his family trust were ordered to pay substantial legal costs and were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

The farmer, together with other landowners, had been angered by the SSSI designation after years of working with the RSPB to improve the fortunes of the rare stone curlew in the Brecks, the main breeding area for the bird.

But after sustaining considerable success, English Nature designated the area as a SSSI – using data collected from the farmers by the RSPB.

Michael Falcon, agent for Mr Fisher, said the Court of Appeal decision was disappointing.

“The designation penalises landowners who have encouraged stone curlews and co-operated with data collection in the past.

“It sends a signal to landowners who may be asked to co-operate in the future to be wary of the consequences,” he said.