Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Madness of jailing a farmer for saving homes from flooding


IF YOU ever doubted our regression from Christianity to paganism, the latest genuflection to the great goddess Gaia will set you right. John Price is a 68-year-old farmer from Herefordshire who has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for clearing and dredging a stretch of the River Lugg to prevent it flooding houses in a nearby village.

His crime? To do the work on his own land without the say-so of the Environment Agency and Natural England and to do it on what the state has designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The district judge (aka stipendiary magistrate) at Kidderminster magistrates court, Ian Strongman, described Mr Price’s actions as ‘ecological vandalism on an industrial scale’ and recommended that he serve at least six months of his jail sentence. He was ordered to pay £600,000 ‘prosecution costs’, another £600,000 to ‘restore the river to its previous state as a haven for wildlife’ and banned from being director of his own company for three years.

A few weeks ago, the same judge declined to send a man to prison for a string of violent assaults on police and others, saying ‘it is right to say prisons are full at the moment and courts are being advised to suspend terms where possible’. It is hard to see the sentence imposed on Mr Price as anything other than vindictive, letting him and us know that the state is the boss, and intended to deter anyone from dredging on their own land to prevent flooding.

Nobody would contest the EA’s and NE’s claims that salmon run up the River Lugg, that otters live along its banks and that beetles and other creatures find its waters congenial. But it has to be accepted that the river flooded neighbouring houses during a storm in early 2020 and after Mr Price’s work there was no flooding during a similar storm a year later. Although none of the flooded villagers seems to have supported him at the sentencing hearing, many did approve of his action because the EA had refused their requests to dredge the river (partially obstructed by trees) to stop the flooding. Mr Price claimed he also had the support of the parish council. He was born in the parish and had watched the flooding getting worse over the years, caused he believed by the EA neglecting to dredge the river. He believed by dredging his part of the river he was acting in the best interests of the community.

Compare the two photographs below. The first sepia one is of the River Derwent Catchment Board doing proper dredging on the River Cocker on the edge of the Lake District in the 1950s. Since this has ceased under the rule of the EA, bridges have been washed away, acres of farmland inundated and in 2009 Cockermouth suffered dreadful floods. The coloured one is of some of Mr Price’s dredging and embanking work for which he has been sent to jail.

The unfortunate Mr Price cannot have been aware that no good deed goes unpunished. What was intended to be beneficial, deepening the river and raising levées, done since the dawn of time, no matter that it may have benefited the community, defied the prevailing orthodoxy of the British eco-state. It was a blasphemous outrage against the deities of biodiversity which the modern eco-priesthood so zealously protects.

After Mr Price was jailed, Emma Johnson of Natural England said that it was ‘devastating to see this wanton destruction’ and it had been ‘devastating for the abundance and range of species which thrived in the river’. She didn’t need to produce any proof of what species would be ‘devastated’ and fail to recover. Mr Price fell foul of the priesthood of eco-‘experts’ uniquely capable of interpreting the signs and wonders to which only they are privy. We ordinary mortals are required to believe without seeingany proof, simply on the say-so of these ‘experts’ who are not to be gainsaid. The chief executive of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Helen Stace, perhaps unwittingly, told the truth that Mr Price had committed a ‘crime against nature’. Never missing an opportunity, the great Monty Don got in his two penn’orth, saying the damage ‘broke his heart’.

There is a Swedish superstition that the old pagan gods, when ousted by Christianity, took refuge in the rivers, where they wait for their time to come round again. It seems that these old deities are waking from their long sleep, having undergone a remarkable metamorphosis, shedding their ancient Sanskrit and Brythonic names and replacing them with new ones which inspire devotion in their modern-day acolytes, children of Darwin, brought up on the dogmas of scientific realism. Although re-naming the River Lugg – probably named after the multi-talented Celtic god Lugh, who among other things dispensed justice, even over rulers and nobility (not, alas, for Mr Price) – a Site of Special Scientific Interest(SSSI) doesn’t have quite the same ring about it, it is a small price to pay for the god’s greatly enlarged cult and the intense devotion he inspires in his modern acolytes. And the tributes he receives more than make up for it: houses flooded by the score, land by the square mile, and oh, the people and livestock sacrificed to him are more than any god could desire.

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Philip Walling
Philip Walling
Philip Walling has written the Sunday Times bestseller Counting Sheep and Till the Cows Come Home.

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