‘Unlimited’ fines for breaching conservation laws

A legal expert is warning landowners to be aware of a penalty increase for breaching an act which protects important conservation areas.

There are around 1,400 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in England. SSSI status grants legal protection to these areas of land under The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Section 28 of the act advises it’s an offence for a person to interfere with or cause damage to an SSSI, without permission from the statutory body, Natural England.

Under the previous rules the maximum fine was £20,000, which remains for cases settled in a magistrates’ court.

But the increase now means that if the case goes to a crown court, then the landowner could be ordered to pay an unlimited fine.

Warwick Alabaster, solicitor in the Litigation team at Napthens solicitors, says the revised fine will affect decisions made by landowners when purchasing or planning on land which borders an SSSI.

Warwick said: “It’s important for landowners to be fully aware of the changes to the law before undertaking any work that may have an impact on an SSSI. If an offence is committed, it could end up being very expensive for the landowner. “The fine could vary depending on the area of land related to a particular offence, so it’s vital to seek legal advice before making any decisions which could lead to a breach of the act.”