Hill farmer, 79, ordered to pay £16,000 for grazing his ponies on common

A Cumbrian hill farmer has been ordered to pay over £16,000 for keeping his herd of Fell ponies on land to which he has grazing rights.

Bill Potter, 79, was convicted of running his animals on Birkbeck Common, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), without the consent of Natural England, in September.

His solicitor Elnyed Ashcroft said Mr Potter is appealing his conviction and the amount he has to pay, in a fine and costs, which she described as “excessive”.

She said she had written to Natural England last year, as she does not believe bringing charges against a man of Mr Potter’s age, for grazing one of a handful of traditionally-kept Fell pony herds left in Cumbria on the common, is in the public interest. Fell ponies are recognised as an endangered species by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

“I have asked Natural England to say how much they have spent pursuing this case but they have not disclosed this,” Mrs Ashcroft said.

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“I estimate the cost to the public will be hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is especially concerning as Natural England is facing criticism for not protecting the remainder of the 4,100 SSSIs in the UK for which it is responsible, and it blames a lack of funds for this.”

Mr Potter’s appeal will be held at crown court on a date yet to be confirmed.

A Natural England spokesman said the body cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

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