‘Was this wildlife pond really such a big deal?’
AN elderly farmer felt the full wrath of government after creating an illegal wildlife pond that left him with a hefty bill and three years of misery.
Fred Meakin was left baffled by the turn of events which saw him threatened with prosecution, enforcement and financial penalties by the Welsh Government.
The retired Anglesey farmer has now been ordered to fill in his nature-friendly pond at Graigfryn Bach, Brynteg.
If he doesn’t Natural Resources Wales (NRW) will send in its own diggers and leave an invoice, he claimed.
Ironically Mr Meakin, 76, wasn’t able to comply until NRW had surveyed his pond for endangered species such as the Great Crested Newt.
If any had been found, he could have been forced to pay the costs of relocating them from his own pond.
Last week NRW finished the study and confirmed no protected species were present.
Mr Meakin said he will now complete the remediation order but he has been left saddened by the enforcement action.
“All we did was built a wildlife pond in the middle of a small field miles from anywhere,” he said. “All of a sudden we were threatened with all sorts.”
The pond was dug three years ago at Graigfryn Bach after Mr Meakin reinstated eroded riverbanks along Afon Lligwy.
To feed his new pond he installed inlet and outlet pipes from the river.
Months later the work came to the attention of the Welsh Government’s environment and countryside team, which issued Mr Meakin with a stop notice.
The elderly bachelor was warned he faced deductions from his EU payment as the land is part of a semi-natural area that is home to important wild flowers.
The site also lies adjacent to the Cors Erddreiniog nature reserve, which relies on alkaline water draining into its wetlands for its distinctive fen plants.
Mr Meakin was later handed a Remediation Notice demanding he return the land to its previous condition.
He protested the pond was now established and had wild flowers, birds, ducks and a wide variety of insects.
“The whole thing just didn’t make sense,” he said.
“For years the NRW and RSPB have been encouraging people to create ponds for wildlife. The Welsh Government even gives grants to farmers to create and restore wildlife ponds. I couldn’t see why they were giving me all this grief.”
When the stress caused his health to deteriorate, he contacted NFU Cymru for help.
However an appeal hearing at Tre Ysgawen Hall, Anglesey, was postponed when, at the eleventh hour, the appellants were handed a 660-page technical report by NRW’s Nottinghambased legal team. At the rear- ranged hearing, at the same venue, Mr Meakin’s appeal was rejected, the inspectorate citing the pond’s lack of environmental significance.
His case was later taken up by farm consultant Heidi Williams of CNG Farm and Country, but she was unable to unpick the ruling’s technical conclusions.
“It is a real shame a common sense approach was not followed,” she said. “I sympathise with Fred, who in all innocence just tried to establish a wildlife haven. Sadly, however, we all need to adhere to the rules.”
An NRW spokeswoman confirmed the pond was subject to a Welsh Government remediation notice following an appeal, pub- lic hearing and ministerial confirmation.
She said action was taken under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations due to the “construction of a pond and other works on areas of valued fen habitat”.
She added: “On July 23, on the request of the Welsh Government, one of our officers checked the newly created pond and found no protected species present.”
Mr Meakin now has no option but to start reinstatement work, which he reckons will cost him thousands.
He has been left chastened by feeling the full might of government descend upon him.
“At the appeal hearings there were government officials from all parts of Wales, the planning inspectorate from Cardiff and a solicitor from Nottingham – this happened not only once but twice,” he said.
“They made feel like I was responsible for an environmental disaster – but it was just a small wildlife pond in Brynteg.”
To ensure he fully complies with the remediation order, the land may be inspected over two years to assess if its natural flora has returned.
The pond lies close to Cors Erddreiniog, a national wetland nature reserve
The pond, viewed from above, dug by Fred Meakin (right)