A DEVELOPER has today been told to pay more than £100,000 after ignoring advice and destroying the habitat of a protected species.

In the first prosecution of its kind in Hampshire, Knightsgate (UK) Ltd was fined £40,000 at Portsmouth Crown Court for clearing land that was home to rare hazel dormice.

The court also told it to hand over £69,392 - the sum it saved by failing to follow recommendations made in an ecology report.

Police were alerted by Fareham Borough Council in March 2019 after land south of Rookery Avenue in Swanwick was cleared by a large machine.

A police spokesman said today: "Heavy track marks were evident at the site, and hedgerows and shrubs had been ripped up by the roots and piled around the land.

"Knightsgate had contracted a tree surgeon to carry out the work, even though they had received a report which made it clear that protected species were onsite."

Following an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch Team, the company was charged with destroying the habitat of a protected species.

Knightsgate admitted the offence at a previous hearing Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court in October last year.

PC Lynn Owen, of the Country Watch Team, said: “Dormice are a rare and protected species which we are very fortunate to have breeding in Hampshire.

“Their population has been decreasing dramatically in the UK over the last century, and this destruction of their habitat by Knightsgate has caused a devastating blow to the animals.

“We are pleased that this case has now concluded.

"I hope this acts as a warning to anyone that operates in a manner that puts our vulnerable wildlife at risk that they will be dealt with robustly.”

Ian White, dormouse officer for People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Hazel dormice are a rare and declining species in England and Wales and because of this they are a protected species.

"Their habitats can be managed sympathetically when areas are built on, but all too often their presence is ignored by developers in the pursuit of profit.

“Buildings may come and go but once dormice are lost from these shores, they are lost forever. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that does not happen.”

The tree surgeon, James Rolph, 29, of Upham, was sentenced last year after admitting an offence similar to the one brought against Knightsgate.

He was fined £1,000, with £85 costs and a £100 victim services surcharge.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said today: "The company allowed the land to be cleared by heavy machinery even though they had received an environmental consultant’s report which made it clear that protected species were onsite.

"That was at least a reckless act on their part by failing properly to give instructions to the contractor."

Mark Gammon, CPS Wessex Senior Crown Prosecutor and Wildlife Lead, added: “Dormice are a legally protected species whose populations have undergone a severe decrease in the UK over the last century.

"This is due, in part at least, to the destruction of their habitats and resting places for the purposes of development.

“Knightsgate UK Ltd completely disregarded the advice they had been given and destroyed the dormouse habitat entirely.

"Destroying or damaging the habitat of protected species is a criminal offence that we will always seek to prosecute where there is evidence of it.”