Landowner's anger after High Court loss

A LANDOWNER who has farmed in west Suffolk for more than 20 years said last night he had been treated like a criminal after losing a High Court battle.

A LANDOWNER who has farmed in west Suffolk for more than 20 years said last night he had been treated like a criminal after losing a High Court battle.

The Hon Patrick Fisher, of Kilverstone Hall, near Thetford, slammed English Nature after they fought off a bid by landowners to block plans for protecting rare stone curlews on their farmland.

Mr Justice Lightman yesterday concurred with English Nature's decision to designate more than 30,000 acres of farmland in the Breckland area on the Suffolk-Norfolk border a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Mr Fisher, who spearheaded the case, said there was no need for the SSSI on an area already recognised as a Special Protection Area.

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Speaking after the case, Mr Fisher said: "I am very disappointed the court has found against us and that, as was made much of in court, English Nature feels it needs to brand landowners as potential criminals so that the stone curlew can be protected.

"I and other landowners are proud to have the stone curlew on our land and we do all we can to see it thrive.

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"It is through the active management of landowners that the stone curlew numbers have increased. The SSSI designation is unnecessary as the bird is fully protected in other ways."

Mr Fisher said he felt English Nature was discouraging landowners from working with them and he feared the High Court's ruling would hit land values.

During the judicial review, Judge Lightman dismissed claims the SSSI designation was "irrational" and amounted to a violation of farmers' human rights to "peacefully enjoy" their private property.

He said he could find no flaw in English Nature's decision, made in August 2001, and ordered Mr Fisher and a family trust to pay the hefty legal costs of the case – although the exact figure was not given.

The judge said the curlews – one of Britain's rarest breeding birds – needed special conservation measures and the Breckland area was of vital importance to their survival and reproduction.

Although Mr Fisher was refused permission to appeal against the decision, his barrister, Daniel Kolinski, said he planned to seek leave for an appeal hearing directly from the Court of Appeal.

Mr Fisher added: "My advice to other landowners who are co-operating with English Nature is to cease this immediately as in my experience, it can only lead to a disappointing outcome."

The Breckland Farmland SSSI lies between Bury and Swaffham in Norfolk and covers land belonging to 84 owners.

It covers half of the breeding stone curlews in Britain. The birds are extremely scarce and their numbers have fallen by 85% in the past 50 years.

English Nature's director for the designated sites Dr Andy Clements said: "We are pleased our scientific opinion has been upheld following a rigorous public hearing. The fact the Breckland SSSI stands is good news for stone curlews.

"The judgement does not affect our commitment to work positively with landowners and managers in Suffolk and Norfolk to help them continue to provide the right conditions for this unusual and charismatic bird to flourish."

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