A HAMPSHIRE businessman who ran an illegal scrap metal company in a meadow rich with wildlife has been fined £30,000.

Christopher Ball, who traded under the company name C Ball and Sons, was fined £3,600 and ordered to pay £30,000 in costs after pleading guilty to running the illegal outfit likely to cause damage to the site of environmental interest.

Ball, who ran his business from Odiham Common in Hook without informing Natural England of his plans, appeared at Basingstoke Magistrates Court.

Mr Ball, who bought a meadow on the Odiham Common with Bagwell Green and Shaw Site of Special Scientific Interest in 2014, was prosecuted by Natural England after failing to notify them of his plans to undertake activity that is restricted because of the sensitive wildlife-rich site.

The site is home to 39 ancient woodland species such as woodruff, early-purple orchid, wood spurge and Solomon’s-seal, as well as nationally rare deadwood invertebrates, reptiles, and birds such as woodcock and wood warbler.

Ball was prosecuted after the court heard how site inspections found the land was strewn with vehicles, vehicle parts and tyres and construction waste while there was evidence of bonfires which would be damaging to the environment.

Speaking after the court case, Andrew Smith, manager for Natural England’s Thames Solent area, said: “It is alarming to see a landowner showing such complete disregard for a protected site in their care. I am pleased that this responsibility has been recognised by the courts.

“When we find cases of damage, such as this, in some of England’s most important and precious countryside, we will take enforcement action and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible. We take our role as a regulator seriously.”

The site, which is located between Basingstoke and Aldershot, is around 130 hectares of wood pasture and rare, grassland habitat and common land at the junction of the London Clay, Plateau Gravel and Lower Bagshot Beds on the edge of the Thames Basin. The Common was formerly used by Edward the Confessor as a hunting ground before being developed into the land which is seen today, predominantly oak trees, but with isolated patches of meadow.

Natural England has since taken action to clear the site.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (‘SSSIs’) are the best examples of natural environment in the United Kingdom, selected because of specific environmental features, which can include flora, fauna and geological features.

There are over 4,100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, covering around 8% of the country’s land area.