A wealthy businessman accused of turning picturesque woodland into a wasteland to build a track to his pheasant shoot has been ordered to pay out almost £1 million.
By Rosa Silverman, Sally Wardle and agencies
01 Aug 2013
Philip Day, who owns the Edinburgh Woollen Mill chain and is said to be as rich as the Queen, is the proprietor of Gelt Woods in Cumbria, where stones for Hadrian’s Wall were quarried almost 2,000 years ago.
In November 2010, trees were felled on the slopes of the site where the river cuts a gorge through the sandstone, and land was excavated to make a “significant” track.
The 72-acre plot of land is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and protected by multiple conservation orders.
Before the illegal felling it was sheltered by birch, oak, and alder trees, while mosses and liverworts thrived on the damp sandstone outcrops.
The glade was also home to a variety of birds, including pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers.
Day, 47, told a court he did not know the felling work was to be carried out and had not authorised it.
But because allowing unauthorised work on a site of special scientific interest is a “strict liability” offence, he pleaded guilty at Carlisle Crown Court to two charges and was fined £450,000 with £457,000 full costs.
According to prosecutors, the trees were cut down to create a track allowing access to the riverside land for shooting.
Day’s defence lawyers denied this, saying there had been a landslip and the felling was necessary to make the riverbank safe.
Judge Peter Hughes QC said the multi-millionaire retailer had been “grossly negligent” over the work, which severely damaged protected flora in the ancient woodland.
He also criticised Day’s defence for “seeking to use the power of his wealth to avoid responsibility,” which had rebounded to his “lasting disgrace”.
Day’s £300m estimated fortune ranks him 277th in The Sunday Times Rich List.
His home at Edmond Castle, a 19th century Tudor-style country pile near the small market town of Brampton, is just a mile away.
The Gelt Woods site is an RSPB nature reserve, and cliffs there still bear the marks of Roman stonemasons who worked during the building of Hadrian’s Wall in around 122AD.
George Laurence QC, mitigating, said Day had neither known about nor authorised the felling that caused the damage, and the prosecution had accepted this.
The court also heard Day had already begun to repair the damage.
But the judge, who took court officials and legal teams to the woods to examine the scene for himself, said fines had to reflect legitimate public concern about the protection of conservation areas.
After the hearing Janette Ward, regulation director for Natural England, which brought the prosecution said: “Legal action is always regrettable and we were disappointed that a woodland of such ecological importance and one that was very special to the local community was so severely damaged
“We welcome the fact that Mr Day has undertaken a programme of voluntary restoration and hope that he will now work with us to manage this special area more appropriately in the future.”
A spokesman for Day insisted he was “passionate about the countryside and committed to conservation.”
He said: “As acknowledged by the judge in this case, Philip Day did not deliberately set out to damage a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“He was shocked to find that damage had been caused to the site by contractors.
“As soon as he became aware of this, he worked closely with Natural England to carry out a full restoration programme, which was completed over two years ago.
“Mr Day intends to appeal against the sentence. The fine is nine times the amount imposed for previous similar offences.”