Devon farmer sentenced for illegally grazing cattle on SSSI

A Devon farmer who allowed his cattle to graze on protected land has been ordered to pay almost £74,000.

David Rillie, of Brandis Corner, near Holsworthy, also received a suspended prison sentence for illegally grazing cattle on the Whiteleigh Meadows site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

See also: Natural England ‘land grab’ threatens Cornish livelihoods

The 76-year-old farmer was sentenced at Taunton Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to two offences at a hearing brought by Natural England in November.

One offence related to his occupier obligations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the other a breach of a Stop Notice.

He was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay all of Natural England’s prosecution costs of £73,927.

The court heard how Natural England was made aware of unpermitted winter grazing on the Whiteleigh Meadows SSSI in December 2020.

More than 50 cattle, owned by Mr Rillie, had overgrazed the vulnerable vegetation to such an extent that they had then broken down the neighbouring farmer’s fencing to get to food. 

Natural England said Mr Rillie ignored a Stop Notice and grazing continued throughout 2021 and towards the end of the summer in 2022.

Whiteleigh Meadows was notified as a SSSI in 1987 for its rare Culm grassland habitat. At the time of notification, marsh fritillary butterflies, adder and curlew bred on the site.

Previous agri-environment schemes on the land had paid for ecologically sensitive management; but there has been no scheme since 2018.