According to a statement from Defra this morning, Christopher Ball, the director of the company, pleaded guilty at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court to conducting unauthorised operations likely to damage the site.
Defra explained that Mr Ball – who bought a meadow on the Odiham Common with Bagwell Green and Shaw SSSI in 2014 – was prosecuted by Natural England after failing to notify them of his plans to “undertake activity that is restricted on the sensitive wildlife-rich site”.
As the owner and occupier of part of the SSSI, the Defra statement said that Mr Ball is required by law to obtain Natural England’s consent for “operations likely to damage the special interest” of the site.
This includes storing or dumping materials or using vehicles on the SSSI that could cause harm.
However, Defra said that site inspections carried out by Natural England revealed that vehicles, vehicle parts and tyres, construction waste, pallets, felled branches and a bonfire site were all on the site and vehicle fluids were leaking into the soil.
In May 2017 Natural England said it was informed that the site, described on the company website as “an overflow and storage facility”, was being used to store truck cabs and car chassis, alongside the dumping of other miscellaneous items such as tyres and vehicle exhausts.
This led to a sustained intervention by various organisations, including Hart district council, Hampshire Constabulary and Natural England to “bring harmful actions on the site to an end”.
Manager for Natural England’s Thames Solent area Andrew Smith said: “It is alarming to see a landowner showing such complete disregard for a protected site in their care. I am pleased that this responsibility has been recognised by the courts.”
Mr Smith added: “When we find cases of damage, such as this, in some of England’s most important and precious countryside, we will take enforcement action and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible. We take our role as a regulator seriously. Our aim now is to work with the owner to re-establish the site and avoid damage to the SSSI in future.”
Bagwell Green and Shaw SSSI, which is located between Basingstoke and Aldershot, comprises nearly 130 hectares of wood pasture, rare grassland habitats, meadows and common land at the junction of the London Clay, Plateau Gravel and Lower Bagshot Beds on the edge of the Thames Basin.