Digger moves in at protected wildlife site

A digger working at the Smallford Pits site.

A digger working at the Smallford Pits site. - Credit: Dawn Hudson

A protected wildlife site already blighted with dumped fuel has been further devastated by an industrial digger.

Smallford Pits is a Local Wildlife Site, which identifies it as a crucial location for wildlife in the county and protects it from development by the planning system.

The site is a breeding ground for great crested newts, a European Protected Species, and is also an important area in Herts for dragonflies.

In September the ponds on part of the site were completely dug out and scrub cut to the ground, and in December petrol or diesel was dumped in the water.

The police and Environment Agency investigated the pollution as a wildlife crime, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take any action due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

The last week a JCB turned up and levelled the plant life, which neighbours believe has caused further damage to the environment.

Nearby resident Christine Pedder, who first reported the initial damage, said: "Why do we have environmental laws if this is ignored? This has set a precedent and if this is not prosecutable then what is?"

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Neighbour Dawn Hudson added: "It is so sad and upsetting to see this vandalism of wildlife habitats."

County councillor John Hale said: "Given this activity, it is extremely disappointing that the CPS were not prepared to proceed with action after the earlier vandalism, as it effectively gave a green light to more destruction of the habitat."

A spokesperson for Herts and Middlesex Trust said: "We are very dismayed at CPS’s decision not to progress a prosecution in this case. Vulnerable Local Wildlife Sites, like Smallford Pits, and their wildlife will continue to be at great risk unless the CPS takes a stronger line on wildlife protection.

"They need to send a clear message that damage to the habitats of protected species is a crime and will not be tolerated or they risk the law being treated with contempt."

A Herts police spokesperson added: "Police were made aware that damage had been caused to land in Smallford Pits, St Albans. It was reported that between 8 September 2020 and 8 October 2020, there were multiple incidents where low-lying ponds had been driven through, drained and dug up.

"Enquiries were carried out, evidence was reviewed and advice was sought from the Crown Prosecution Service. It was subsequently deemed by police that there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case.

"Should any new information come to light, it will be reviewed accordingly."

The owner of the land is believed to be a company called Colney Smallford Ltd, based in Milton Keynes. No phone number or email is available for contacting them to comment on their plans for the site.