Swansea Court Upheld the Farmer’s Conviction of Cutting Woodland Equal to 12 Football Pitches

    • Swansea Crown Court rejected a farmer’s appeal, who was convicted in a tree felling case by a lower court.
    • Swansea Magistrates Court convicted Thomas Jeff Lane in March 2022
    • Thomas Jeff Lane had hacked down 8.5 hectares of woodland in Gower, Wales.
    • Natural Resources Wales claimed this loss as the ‘most devastating felling in the last 30 years’.
The lower court convicted Thomas Jeff Lane, 71, a farmer, for illegally felling trees in Gower. The area is located in southwest Wales, projecting towards the Bristol Channel. On 22nd November, Swansea Crown Court rejected a farmer’s appeal. The farmer in question had cut down 8.5 hectares of woodland, roughly equal to 12 football fields. The gloomy before-and-after photos of the site speak volumes.

Hewing Trees in Gower – Worst Felling Incident

The Natural Resources Wales (NRW) called the Gower felling a “devastating” habitat loss. In 2019, the public body first received complaints against Lane who had overstepped the limits imposed by his felling license. Consequently, Lane got away with just a warning. However, the remorseless farmer did not take heed and continued to cut down another 2.9 hectares of trees. In September 2020, the NRW received aerial images of the site that showed a vast area of land that had been swept clean. Thus, NRW’s investigating officers inspected the matter further. The officers found that Lane had further hacked down 457m³ of woodland. It was evident that he had breached a legal order yet again. The lost habitat was equal to over 20 lorry loads of timber! Lane’s merciless hewing left no chance for the trees to regrow. The NRW officials remarked that it was the “most devastating felling they had seen for 30 years.”
The area before Lane logged there.
The once healthy woodland in Gower, Wales photographed in 2015 (Picture: The Gower Society)

Court Case Against Illegal Felling

Swansea Magistrates Court convicted Jeff Lane in March 2022. Lane had violated section 17 of the Forestry Act (1967). Furthermore, he also failed to follow an enforcement notice, which asked Lane to replenish the trees he hacked down in 2019. Not just that, the farmer even lacked the appropriate license for cutting the trees. Lane decided to appeal the court’s verdict. In November 2022, Swansea Crown Court allowed Lane to have his say. However, Recorder Richard Kember, leader of the bench, told the court that there was convincing evidence of illegal felling. Consequently, the appeal was dismissed in full. The convicted farmer tried to persuade the court in his favor. He argued that he hacked down only “rotten and decayed trees.” He depicted that his motive was to improve the condition of the land at Old Forge Farm in Fairwood. The court dismissed his assertions, affirming that the defense’s arguments were not credible. During the proceedings, Damian Ward, NRW’s officer, expressed that it was clear the farmer had exceeded the limitations of his license. The NRW also proved Lane’s non-compliance with the enforcement notice in the court. Nevertheless, the Crown Court adjourned Lane’s sentencing until 14 April 2023.
The woodland clearly showing the damage caused by the illegal felling. (Picture: The Gower Society)
The woodland clearly showing the damage caused by the illegal felling. (Picture: The Gower Society)

The response of Natural Resources Wales

The Natural Resources Wales played a significant role in the investigation. The organization spoke about the case after the hearing. Nick Fackrel, Senior Forestry Officer of NRW, said, Mr. Lane’s appeal has been dismissed by Swansea Crown Court. The convictions on both counts of illegal felling and non-compliance with the environmental impact assessment regulations (forestry) enforcement notice against him are upheld.” Fackrell explained that court’s verdict prohibits the landowners from opting for non-compliance. For that reason, it is inadvisable to go beyond the limitations of a felling license. “This is one of the worst cases of illegal tree hewing that NRW has inspected in more than 30 years. We carried out a thorough investigation. The evidence was strong that illegal felling had occurred,Fackrell added. The Forestry Officer stated that it could take decades for new trees to grow. The NRW and the Professional Forestry Sector put plenty of effort in to ensure that felling occurs in line with the Forestry Act (1967). Moreover, the team ensured the preservation of the woods as per UK Forestry’s Standards. Felling licenses hold a significant value for properly regulating trees and woodlands. With Lane’s case reaching its end, it is clear that going against the law entails dire consequences.