Braunton farmer admits ploughing up 'semi natural' land

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court - Credit: Archant

A farmer has admitted breaking an order not to plough or graze animals on protected land which had been designated for conservation by Natural England. 

Andrew Cooper pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court after a judge ruled that he was not able to challenge the legality of the order which prevented him using fields at his North Devon farm in this way. 

Judge Peter Johnson told him that the only issue was whether he had complied with a stop notice and that he had no viable defence because he accepted, he had done so. 

Cooper, aged 62, of Croyde Hoe Farm near Braunton, admitted breaking a stop notice by grazing animals, partially ploughing, and used lime or other fertilisers on the land. 

He had been planning to conduct his own defence on the grounds that Natural England’s order was not valid and that officials had given him mixed messages about what he was allowed to do with the fields. 

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The prosecution at Exeter Crown Court was brought by Natural England, which imposed the stop order on October 20, 2017. He failed to comply between then and July 31, 2018. 

The charge alleges that he grazed a fodder field; ploughed all or part of a field; rolled and planted all or part of a field, and used lime or other substances. 

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The stop order was issued by Natural England to protect what they classified as 'uncultivated, semi-natural areas'. 

Judge Johnson adjourned sentence until June and asked Cooper to provide a document setting out his mitigation along with any references in advance of the next hearing. 

Mr Bernard Thorogood, prosecuting, said officials from Natural England hope to conduct further negotiations with Cooper about the future status and use of the land. 

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