Taverham man accused of damaging river insists he’s done nothing wrong

A millionaire businessman accused of breaking environmental laws on the River Wensum has given a legal pledge not to carry out any more work on the river without permission.

But Basil Todd, owner of Wensum Valley Hotel, Golf and Country Club at Taverham, near Norwich, insisted he had done nothing wrong and had the best interests of the river at heart.

Mr Todd, of Welborne, near Dereham, was taken to court by Natural England, the government's wildlife advisers, after he carried out a catalogue of works on the river, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Natural England was seeking an injunction preventing Mr Todd, 69, from carrying out any further work on the banks or in the river itself without meeting his legal obligations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It claims Mr Todd had damaged the river and had continued with the work, despite officials repeatedly raising their concerns with him.

The breaches took place at Billingford, near Dereham, on land which Mr Todd plans to turn into a wildlife sanctuary, visitor centre and a campsite.

Norwich County Court accepted an undertaking from Mr Todd that he would not carry out or allow any work requiring consent without complying with the law.

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Peter Nottage, regional director for Natural England in the East of England, said: 'Natural England is working actively with owners and occupiers along the whole of the 72km (45 miles) of the River Wensum SSSI to ensure that consideration of the wildlife interest of the river are taken into account when changes in management are proposed.

'Where opportunities arise, we are keen to restore this chalk river to prime condition. We have invested a great deal of time in working with owners, stakeholders and local communities in order to take this forward.

'It is therefore very disappointing when we are left with no choice but to intervene with an injunction application to stop further work being carried out without the necessary safeguards in place for the key wildlife interests of the river. The notice and consent procedure is there to help landowners avoid damaging SSSIs and we hope Mr Todd will finally start to use it properly.'

But Mr Todd was unrepentant, saying: 'I have done only good. I've done nothing to harm anything. The only people who are harming the rivers are Natural England and the Environment Agency, and if they carry on we are going to see tremendous flooding.

'The Wensum has never been as bad as it is now. There are trees across the river and it's blocked up. They have allowed the river to get clogged up.

'They now don't cut weed on the side of the river. That's allowed the river to close in and now they are putting shingle in it. I put some shingle in where it was washing my bank away.'

Mr Todd has previously fallen foul of Breckland Council and Natural England for other breaches.