A luxury housing developer has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 for destroying land that housed rare Hazel Dormice, in a first of its kind prosecution for Hampshire.
Police were contacted by Fareham Borough Council on 14 March 2019 with reports that the site, which is situated on land south of Rookery Avenue in Swanwick, had been cleared by a large machine.
Heavy track marks were evident at the site, and hedgerows and shrubs had been ripped up by the roots and piled around the land.
The landowners, Knightsgate (UK) Ltd, had contracted a tree surgeon to carry out the work, even though they had received an ecology report which made it clear that protected species were onsite, and there were planning conditions at the site which included dormouse mitigation.
Following an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch Team, supported by local ecologists, the local planning authority and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the company was charged with damaging/destroying a breeding site/resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species.
They admitted the offence at a previous court hearing at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court on 23 October 2020.
The court found that it had been at least a reckless act on the company’s part, by failing to properly give instructions to the contractor about clearing the site.
Today (Wednesday 1 December), at a hearing at Portsmouth Crown Court, the company was handed a £40,000 fine. The court also made a confiscation order of £69,392.80 – the sum the company would have had to pay had they followed the recommendations of the ecology report.
By failing to follow these recommendations, the company saved themselves this huge sum of money, but will now have to pay this under the order of the court.
PC Lynn Owen, from the Country Watch Team, said: “Dormice are a rare and protected species which we are very fortunate to have breeding in Hampshire.
“Their population has been decreasing dramatically in the UK over the last century, and this destruction of their habitat by Knightsgate has caused a devastating blow to the animals.
“We are pleased that this case has now concluded, and I hope this acts as a warning to anyone that operates in a manner that puts our vulnerable wildlife at risk that they will be dealt with robustly.”
Ian White, Dormouse Officer for People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Hazel dormice are a rare and declining species in England and Wales and because of this they are a protected species. Their habitats can be managed sympathetically when areas are built on, but all too often their presence is ignored by developers in the pursuit of profit.
“Buildings may come and go but once dormice are lost from these shores, they are lost forever. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that does not happen.”
The tree surgeon, 29-year-old James Rolph from the Upham area of Hampshire, was previously sentenced on 23 October 2020 after admitting a charge of damaging/destroying a breeding site/resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species.
He was fined £1000, and ordered to pay a £100 surcharge and £85 costs.
The Country Watch team are a dedicated group of officers who specialise in dealing with rural, wildlife, marine and heritage crime. They work closely with key partner agencies and build up contacts in the community to help tackle the issues that are important to the rural communities.
These issues range from agricultural crime, poaching, livestock worrying, environmental crime and rural crime prevention.