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Paul Rackham Ltd fined after harming habitat at River Little Ouse

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A company has been fined after it was found to have harmed the habitat of water voles, a protected species.

Paul Rackham Ltd, based at Manor Farm, Bridgham, pleaded guilty to carrying out work on the River Little Ouse at Lodge Farm Estate, in Gasthorpe, without a permit.

A 2.4km stretch of river was dredged and deepened, with additional work carried out to raise and reprofile the riverbank.

The River Little Ouse at Redmere. Picture: Carl Whitehouse
The River Little Ouse at Redmere. Picture: Carl Whitehouse

Vegetation from the river and the bank was also removed.

The work was carried out between October and December 2018, before being discovered in January 2019.

A member of Environment Agency staff went to take a sample to monitor drought in the area when he noticed that the channel was deeper than usual and had to abandon his sampling.

Officers visited the site again a month later and found that vegetation and trees and been removed from the site.

They later spoke with company director Paul Rackham, telling him to stop the work as it needed a permit. No further work was carried out.

Further visits to the site found that the work had had a significant adverse impact on the habitats of water voles and invertebrates.

Officers concluded the unpermitted work had damaged the burrows of water voles and removed their food source and shelter.

The River Little Ouse was also found to have slowed down in flow, impacting on different plants and invertebrates.

Numbers of freshwater shrimp in the area dropped to their lowest recorded numbers in the past five years.

Sentencing the company, Judge Bacon QC found the level of harm caused was significant.

She found that Paul Rackham Ltd had been reckless in carrying out the work without first obtaining a permit.

The company said it was unaware it needed a permit but it had obtained flood defence consent from the Environment Agency in the past.

It had also previously been advised to contact the agency in advance of doing any dredging.

A remediation scheme valued at £400,000 has been carried out by the company to repair the harm caused and to reconnect the River Little Ouse to the floodplain.

The scheme is likely to result in an overall enhancement to the local environment.

Paul Rackham Ltd pleaded guilty to operating a regulated facility and was sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on March 30.

The company was fined £17,000, which included a 20 per cent credit for the company’s guilty plea and mitigation in the form of significant remediation work.

The company has also agreed to pay £49,000 towards prosecution costs.

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