Farmer fined for ploughing up protected Iron Age remains

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

A farmer who ploughed over protected iron age remains has been ordered to pay £31,500 in fines and costs.

Andrew Cooper defied a stop order which was issued by Natural England after experts found evidence of nationally important archaeological remains on the land.

He used heavy ploughing equipment on fields at Baggy Point, North Devon, where large numbers of flints and other iron age remains had previously been found.

The land also has historical significance as a training area used by American troops before D-Day and old trenches were also at risk of being lost.

Cooper, aged 62, has leased the land from the National Trust for 30 years and said they never mentioned the pre-historic remains or told him not to plough and grazing the 170 acres.

A judge has asked the National Trust to review his tenancy and suggested that his repeated flouting of conservation laws is not consistent with their aims.

Cooper left the two fields uncultivated for years when he was claiming set aside grants but dropped out of that scheme in 2012.

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He was told by Natural England to carry out an environmental assessment before using the land but did not do so.

He challenged Natural England’s designation of the land and appealed against a series of remediation orders, but all were thrown out by the High Court or DEFRA.

Natural England issued a stop notice in October 2017 but Cooper ignored it and has ploughed or grazed the fields repeatedly ever since.

Cooper, aged 62, of Croyde Hoe Farm near Braunton, admitted breaking a stop notice and was fined £7.500 with £24,000 costs by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: “This was deliberate, flagrant breaching of the law with the defendant knowing exactly what he was doing. He has shown not a jot of remorse.

“There is a history of non-compliance, repeated incidents, and it was clearly done for financial gain. The notice is still in force and if it breached there will be further proceedings and you will be staring bankruptcy in the face.”

The judge said it is remarkable that the National Trust has not exercised more control over a tenant who has repeatedly broken the law.

He said he would have considered a jail sentence if the law allowed it and described the £300,000 costs of the case were eye-watering but that Cooper could only afford to pay a fraction of that.

He ordered him to serve five months in prison in default if he did not pay the fine by October 21.

Mr Bernard Thorogood, prosecuting, said four fields on the farm are considered to have national importance because of their iron age history and the links to D-Day.

A large number of flints have been found in earlier surveys leading to Baggy Point being identified as a probably centre for tool manufacture and a possible site of a fort dating from the middle Mesolithic period of 8,000 to 4,000 BC.

More than 2,000 flints were recovered in just one of the fields in 1992.

An archaeological report said there was an immediate danger of objects being destroyed by the use of modern heavy ploughs or grazing of sheep of cattle in wet conditions.

The area was used by American troops training for D-Day and contains remains of slit trenches used in mock battles. There is also a pillbox in which 24-year-old Pennsylvania GI Alfred A Augustine carved his name just weeks before he died on Omaha Beach on June 6.

Mr Thorogood said the stop notice was only issued after four years of trying to get voluntary cooperation and a number of remediation orders had failed.

He said Cooper had received £331,000 in government grants over recent years.

Cooper said he made little or no profit and his accounts for last year showed a surplus of just £24. All his assets are tied up in his livestock.

He said the land is owned by the National Trust and neither they or Historic England have never said anything about iron age remains on it.

He said the idea of it containing an iron age hill fort was a fantasy

He said the original designation of the land as pasture was incorrect because it was listed as cultivated land in 2012.

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