A Herefordshire farmer who was jailed for causing damage to a protected river has defended his actions, insisting they helped prevent flooding to local properties and land.
Several homes along the River Lugg flooded during Storm Dennis in February 2020 and John Price said he did the river works in late November 2020 to reduce the risk of further flooding to homes and his own land.
“Since it took over from the Internal Drainage Board 40 years ago, the Environment Agency has done nothing. It doesn’t do any work,” said Mr Price, speaking exclusively to Farmers Weekly.
“When it floods, the rabbits die, the foxes die, the salmon come out across the fields. You don’t know where the river is. When it recedes, they are left on the fields.”
Mr Price, 68, said the rivers have got narrower, the water isn’t moving and there is more concrete everywhere.
“That river [Lugg] goes up so quickly now after you have an inch or two of rain, then it goes down. Years ago, it would have to rain for about six weeks before you started talking about a flood.”
Watch Mr Price explain his actions on camera below.
Despite weeks of relentless rain, including a barrage of rain from Storm Babet, the River Lugg did not burst its banks where Mr Price had undertaken the works.
He also rejected EA claims that his unconsented works had just moved the flooding problem further downstream.
He insisted he undertook the works with the support of Kingsland Parish Council and the EA.
The agency had earlier written to him telling him he was in breach of his responsibilities as a riparian landowner after Storm Dennis washed root balls and trees into the middle of the river, restricting the flow and causing erosion to both banks.
But a joint investigation by the EA and Natural England found the potato, beef and sheep farmer undertook unconsented works along a one-mile stretch of the river in a site of special scientific interest.
Mr Price, from Day House Farm, Kingsland, used a bulldozer and diggers to reprofile the banks and unblock the third arch of Lugg Green Bridge, known as the “flood arch”, which had been blocked for years.
The Lugg is also a navigation river for canoeists, who have always told Mr Price and neighbouring farmer Peter Vaughan to keep it clear.
EA chiefs said the damage to the river and banks could take several decades to be fully restored.
However, 10m grass margins either side of the river have now regrown and locals said the river was “stacked with wildlife”.
Mr Price was released from prison on 6 July after serving 11 weeks of a 12-month sentence, which was reduced to 10 months following an appeal.
He was ordered to pay £600,000 in prosecution costs and £400,000 in his own legal costs, while he also faces a £700,000 bill after being served with a river restoration order.
Mr Price said his time spent in Hewell Prison, near Redditch, was “indescribable”. He shared a small cell with another inmate for 23 hours a day and was let out only twice a day for meals.
“I was in with five different prisoners at different times, including two murderers and another who kept telling me he was going to chop my fingers off.”
The farmer, who is autistic and suffers from depression, said the experience had made him stronger and he was grateful to his children and staff who helped to keep his farming operation running smoothly during his absence.
Rev Julie Read, the vicar of Kingsland, said: “There are people who are very thankful to John Price because he helped those who live right by the bridge who had been flooded a few times.
“A lot of people who have lived here all their lives are very grateful that he did something and cleared the third arch. There was the feeling that this started with a request from the parish council. John is always very willing to help, but he maybe went too far.”
Locals give their backing to John Price
Local residents have spoken out in support of farmer John Price, saying their homes have not flooded since he carried out the works.
Paul and Rita Impey, who live next to the River Lugg, said they felt Mr Price had been treated very harshly and that he had only been trying to help.
They said before he did the work, the Lugg Green Bridge arches were silted up. One was completely blocked.
“Over the years, the arches have been blocked up and trees have been growing in the middle of the river,” said Mr Impey.
“We contacted the council, the EA and the Highways Agency and it just went back and forwards. No one wanted to take responsibility.” The couple said they fully supported Mr Price and described his treatment by the authorities as “disgusting”.
Sebastian Bowen, a local councillor and ex-chairman of Herefordshire Council, said he and fellow parish councillors had met EA officials, who had asked him to ask Mr Price to clear the arches under the bridge, straighten up the bank and make it a good-running river.
“After the case and the brutal way it was handled by the EA, other farmers have said they will never touch the River Lugg in any way for fear of being pursued by the agency,” said Cllr Bowen.
“The River Lugg is now back in tip-top condition, manifested by the presence of otters, a variety of fish including salmon, crayfish, kingfishers and other aquatic creatures.”