Welsh landowner guilty of felling eight hectares of woodland in Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

A landowner has been found guilty of illegally felling a large woodland in a Welsh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in what investigating officers called one of the worst offences seen in 30 years.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) prosecuted the landowner for breaching section 17 (penalty for felling without licence) of the Forestry Act 1967 after he cut down the equivalent of 12 football pitches of woodland without the appropriate licence at Swansea Magistrates court earlier this month (29 March).

The man, who owns land in the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was also found guilty of non-compliance with an enforcement notice to restock trees which he had previously felled in 2019. 

A Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) confiscation order, which seeks to obtain the financial benefit that the defendant has gained from his criminal conduct, is also being pursued by NRW.

This is the first time POCA has been used in forestry in the UK, NRW said.

Native and wet woodland are a priority habitat listed under section 7 of the Environment Act Wales.

A warning notice was first issued to the landowner in 2019 after officers found he exceeded the limitations of his thinning license, having felled 2.9 hectares of trees. He was told to restore the site and not to carry out any further felling.

Aerial photos taken by a local group, the Gower Society, were later sent to NRW, showing that trees had continued to be felled.

Further investigations were then carried out, which established that a further 457m³ of woodland – the equivalent to more than 20 lorry loads of timber – had been cut down.

The case was sent to Swansea Crown Court last week (19 April) to determine whether the landowner has benefited from proceeds of crime for the illegal felling. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The NRW said the landowner is appealing his conviction.

Adam Carey

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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