A man who admitted ploughing up part of an internationally recognised nature reserve in Northern Ireland has been fined £3,000.
Amateur footage of a tractor ploughing the lough foreshore
Newtownards businessman Ken Cooke ploughed six hectares of Strangford Lough foreshore to clean a plough for use in a vintage tractor show.
In doing so he killed off an area of eel grass, the staple diet of Brent geese, which winter in the area.
Mr Cooke, 63, told Bangor Magistrates Court: "I'll never do it again."
The court heard that more than 80% of the world's Brent geese population wintered in the lough and the eel grass was vital to them.
Prosecuting counsel for the Department of Environment, Barry Valentine, said that Mr Cooke, of Tullynagardy Road, was seen ploughing on the shore on 27 December 2004 and was told it was an area of special scientific interest and that what he was doing was an offence.
However, he said Mr Cooke was then observed back at the same spot, Island Hill outside Newtownards, on 3 January 2005 ploughing again.
Mr Valentine said there were signs of natural regeneration on the site which will be monitored over the next three years.
A DoE expert told the court it could be five years before the site and the eel grass had been restored.
The eel grass is the staple diet of Brent geese
John Stewart, counsel for Mr Cooke, said his client had taken up the hobby of vintage tractors and ploughing and had gone to the sandy soil of the lough to clean his plough by ploughing in preparation for shows and exhibitions.
He said Mr Cooke had only chosen the lough after being told by local farmers the practice was widespread and acceptable.
Mr Cooke pleaded guilty to intentionally or recklessly destroying and damaging flora, fauna or geological land of special scientific interest knowing what he destroyed or damaged was within an area of special scientific interest.
Magistrate Mervyn Bates said he was concerned Mr Cooke, having been told on 27 December that he should not plough, had failed to take on board what was said and had returned to carry on days later.
"It is a frightening prospect that the Brent geese population should be upset and possibly affected irredeemably if this procedure were to continue," he said.
He said he was satisfied the impact environmentally, if repeated, could be "very significant".
Handing down the fine he said: "I trust others will learn from this error, it seems to have become a practice which must be ended."