A FARMER and his company face a £310,000 court bill for damaging a famous North Yorkshire daffodil valley in their quest for bigger profits from game shoots.

Residents of Farndale, near Pickering, told York Crown Court of how they saw “waves” of pheasants on the roads and 20 at a time in one field after Yorks Sports Ltd and its director, Michael Wood, defied official warnings and illegally increased the number of game birds in and around the valley’s conservation area.

The court heard how, in 2006, sportsmen shot nearly 15,000 birds on the Farndale Estate where the farmer and company had shooting rights, double the bag of three years earlier. Between 2006 and 2009, the tens of thousands of birds on the land significantly damaged the landscape on top of considerable damage caused by flooding in 2007 in the Farndale site of special scientific interest.

Walkers and nature lovers visit the dale to see its thousands of wild daffodils and a special daffodil bus runs every spring.

The company and Wood are now working with Natural England on restoring the Farndale SSSI to its former state.

“Mr Wood didn’t seek the consent that was required,” said the Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst.

“In my judgement, he knew it would not be forthcoming. Put simply, he took risks and did so for commercial reasons.”

Wood, 66, and Yorks Sports Ltd, both of Cropton Lane, Pickering, both pleaded guilty to seven offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They were each fined £20,000, plus a £15 victim surcharge and £125,000 between them towards prosecution costs. Natural England, who brought the case, had applied for £200,000.

In addition, the defendants must pay a total a £145,000 defence costs bill. The company was valued in court as worth about £245,000. Wood and Yorks Sport Ltd have shooting rights in Farndale Estate, owned by Sir Lawrence Barratt.

For the defendants, Julian Goose QC said they had not deliberately caused damage nor had their actions led to substantial or irreversible damage. Janette Ward, Natural England’s regulation director, said it appreciated the importance of shooting to the rural economy and landscape.

“In this case, however, the sheer number of pheasants released was unsustainable and so damaging that a prosecution had to be brought,” she said.

Law for bird rearing

BY law, game bird rearers have to get permission from Natural England to feed or rear in or close to an SSSI.

In 2004 Wood got consent to release 500 birds in the Farndale SSSI when he asked for permission for up to 12,000 birds, and was told he was unlikely to get consent for any more. He did not reapply.