Men cleared of disturbing and destroying hazel dormouse habitat

Hazel dormouse Picture: Hattie Spray/PTES/PA Wire

Two men have been cleared of disturbing a dormouse habitat in Suffolk (stock picture) - Credit: PA

Two men have been acquitted of disturbing and destroying a hazel dormouse habitat in Suffolk after undertaking site clearance work. 

Alan Keeble, 73, and Craig Lister, 50, faced two charges relating to the rare protected species in Kersey, near Hadleigh, in January 2021. 

But after a two-day trial at Suffolk Magistrates' Court, both Keeble and Lister were found not guilty on Wednesday of disturbing a wild animal of a European protected species and damaging or destroying a resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species. 

Hazel dormice, their breeding sites and resting places, are protected by law, but licences can be obtained from Natural England if work cannot avoid disturbing them. 

Magistrates' previously heard how in January 2021, Keeble was in the process of selling his property, in Wicker Street Green, Kersey, to Lister, and planning permission had been sought. 

Ipswich Magistrates Court on Elm Street

The two day trial was heard at Suffolk Magistrates' Court - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

An ecological survey was required and confirmed the presence of hazel dormice after it was carried out. 

Keeble applied for a licence from Natural England for work to take place at the farm, and that was granted, Fred Sagoe, prosecuting, told the court. 

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The approved schedule of works included habitat enhancement and installation of dormice boxes. 

In January 2021, police received a report that clearance had taken place at the Wicker Street Green site on the weekend of January 9 and 10. 

A concrete area adjacent to the barn had been mechanically scraped and cleared of undergrowth, with debris containing soil and stone piled up. 

Sergeant Brian Calver, from Suffolk police's rural crime team, who gave evidence during the trial, then visited the site and made enquiries as to ownership of the site. 

When Lister was interviewed by police, he confirmed purchasing the property from Keeble, and admitted clearing shrubs using hand tools while Keeble scraped the concrete with a mechanical loading shovel, magistrates previously heard.

Mr Sagoe said the prosecution case was that the work undertaken was outside the licence granted by Natural England. 

However, Keeble, of Bower House Tye, Polstead, near Colchester, and Lister, of Brook Street, Glemsford, both denied this was the case.