A FARMER has admitted organising the illegal felling of trees shortly before he was jailed for another environmental offence.

John Price, 69, of Day House Farm, Kingsland, Herefordshire, was fined £1,750 and must pay Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) costs of £135 and a victim surcharge of £175.

He pleaded guilty at Hereford Magistrates’ Court to illegally felling a large area of alder, willow, hazel and thorn trees that were around 50 years old.

The CPS said Forestry Commission agents were told in February 2022 that men with heavy machinery were clearing an area in woodland around Ryelands Farm in Ludlow.

They visited the site and the men said they were working for Price. They denied knowing they needed a licence to fell the trees.

Price did not reply to letters from the Forestry Commission and they found he was in prison for illegally clearing a large piece of land near the River Lugg in Hereford.

He was jailed in April 2023 for 12 months, later reduced on appeal to 10 months, and ordered to pay £600,000 prosecution costs in what Natural England and the Environment Agency said was the worst river-side destruction the organisations had seen.

On Wednesday, Price told the magistrates he had instructed the workman to “coppice” the trees, which is legal, but the court rejected this, the CPS said.

The case was prosecuted by a unit at CPS Mersey Cheshire that conducts cases of illegal tree felling investigated by the Forestry Commission.

Senior Crown Prosecutor George Ward said: “John Price earns a living from the land as a farmer but clearly has no real regard for it.

“He has broken the law on two occasions in quick succession and has been sentenced for further offending after a jail term for similar criminality.

“In this latest case, the Crown Prosecution Service successfully argued in court that coppicing wouldn’t require the heavy machinery that was on site.

“What John Price had ordered the men to do was deforestation. When faced with the evidence Price remained silent and entered a guilty plea.

“The care of both agricultural and recreational land is controlled by the law and the CPS works with the Forestry Commission, the Police and other statutory agencies to uphold that law.”

Judge Nicholas Cole, who reduced Price’s prison sentence in May 2023, told the farmer then: “Given the breadth of the offending over an extended period of time … there is a need for deterrence in any sentence we impose.

“The message needs to go out loud and clear these laws are there to protect the environment for everybody.”

Price, who the court heard had capital assets “in excess of £20 million” and a previous conviction from 2007 for damming a nearby tributary to extract water for his potatoes, also had his three-year disqualification from being a company director upheld by the judge.