Sidmouth police crack down on 4x4 drivers 'risking beaver welfare' on River Otter
PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:54 28 April 2017
'Selfish' 4x4 drivers 'trashing' the beautiful countryside surrounding Sidmouth could be threatening England's first wild beavers in more than 300 years.
Police Sergeant Andy Squires said offenders are taking their four-wheel-drives over historic Devon banks and farm crops - and even up the River Otter.
If caught, those responsible could be summonsed to court or served a Police Reform Act notice, which could see their vehicles seized and crushed if they are used in an antisocial manner a second time.
Sgt Squires said: “They have trashed the Devon banks and verges around White Cross car park [on Fire Beacon Hill] and East Hill, and more recently have been driving up the River Otter.
“This last weekend, damage was caused to the river bank, the farmer’s crops adjacent, not to mention the environmental damage to the river. They do not have the landowner’s permission.
“It is an offence to drive a vehicle elsewhere than on a road and we will be looking to prosecute anyone caught doing so.
“Green laning is an entirely different matter, usually undertaken by responsible enthusiasts on lanes and tracks where vehicles are permitted.”
Green lanes – shown as white lines on an Ordnance Survey map – are permitted for vehicle use as they are technically highways, but that also means normal laws, standards of driving and vehicle documentation apply.
Sgt Squires added: “Driving up a Devon bank, through a hedge or down a river is unacceptable and will be taken seriously. It is selfish and unfair on those that enjoy our beautiful countryside.”
He said witnesses to 4x4s being driven off-road should call 101 unless someone’s life is in danger, when they should call 999.
Stephen Hussey, of the Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “Using a vehicle in this fashion is reckless and shows a lack of care for local people and the countryside.
“Beyond the damage to farmers’ land and livestock, this kind of irresponsible behaviour will also harm nature.
“The River Otter is home to some special wildlife. It has good numbers of otters, kingfishers and, of course, is the place where we now have a breeding population of beavers – the first time that these animals have been seen in the English countryside for 300 - 400 years.
“It would be a shame if the welfare of this special wildlife is put at risk by a few thoughtless people.”
Estate surveyor Clare James confirmed that there had been several incidents involving 4x4s being driven onto Clinton Devon Estates land near Dotton and information had been passed to police and the Environment Agency.