A 76-year-old farmer from Devon has been ordered to pay over £70,000 after pleading guilty to two offences relating to the overgrazing of over 50 cattle on the Whiteleigh Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

The Whiteleigh Meadows SSSI. Image: UK gov

David Rillie, of Brandis Corner, Devon, was also received a 16-week suspended prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, at Taunton Magistrates’ Court at a hearing brought by Natural England.

Natural England served a Stop Notice in February 2021. The notice prevented further grazing until such time as Rillie engaged with Natural England and sought consent to graze only with fewer stock during the drier summer months.

Natural England said he ignored the Stop Notice and grazing continued throughout 2021 and then again towards the end of summer 2022.

In total, Rillie ordered to pay all of Natural England’s prosecution costs of £73,927.81.

Also unpermitted, Rillie had provided supplementary feed to the cattle and, on one site visit, Natural England staff observed approximately 80 empty plastic silage wraps littering the site.

It was concluded that the unpermitted winter grazing by Rillie’s cattle caused severe localised trampling of the habitat which has left the SSSI in an Unfavourable Condition and which will take up to two years to recover.

A spokesperson for Natural England said: “Mr. Rillie ignored his obligations as a SSSI occupier and failed to take the opportunities to comply provided by Natural England.

“His actions have led to this important and sensitive site suffering damage which will take several years to recover.

“Natural England takes all damage to SSSI’s seriously and will use its enforcement powers to ensure that anyone who acts in this way will be brought to account.”