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Art dealer who starred on The Island with Bear Grylls at war with neighbours after creating an illegal LAKE in garden of his Penzance home as 4,500 furious locals complain

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A wealthy fine art dealer who appeared on The Island with Bear Grylls is at war with his neighbours after creating an illegal ‘lake’ in a Cornish beauty spot.

Barnes Thomas, 38, installed a 1.4m-deep water feature on his land in Cot Valley but more than 4,500 people have signed a petition calling for the land to be restored.

The water feature has granite steps leading down to the edge and a bulky granite quay branching out to the centre. Pictures taken by local residents show that the ‘pond’ is large enough for boats to be taken out. 

Locals argue the pond, which was built in 2021, has ruined the character of the beautiful landscape and is a flood risk, slamming it as ‘selfish’ and arguing it is a lake.

One said: ‘He can live in his house and enjoy the view but we would like the valley back as it was.’ 

They say they feel ‘ intimidated’ and claim he is ‘nasty’ to his neighbours. But some in the area defended the art dealer and said he enhanced the ‘ambience’ of the area.

Another concern is that the water – which is under a flight path – will attract wildlife like geese.

Locals say they are worried about ‘a plane coming down on their heads’ if a bird gets caught in the engine.

Fine art dealer Barnes Thomas who appeared on The Island with Bear Grylls is at war with his neighbours after creating an illegal 'lake' (pictured) in a Cornish beauty spot

Fine art dealer Barnes Thomas who appeared on The Island with Bear Grylls is at war with his neighbours after creating an illegal ‘lake’ (pictured) in a Cornish beauty spot

A photo supplied by a neighbour shows the excavation work from 2021 when work on the pond began

A photo supplied by a neighbour shows the excavation work from 2021 when work on the pond began

Mr Thomas was in Bear Grylls' The Island in 2018 and proved to be a controversial contestant

Mr Thomas was in Bear Grylls’ The Island in 2018 and proved to be a controversial contestant

Mr Thomas, from nearby Penzance, (pictured on the far right)  previously appeared on The Island in 2018 on the 'rich team'. At the time, he said he was an 'acquired taste'

Mr Thomas, from nearby Penzance, (pictured on the far right)  previously appeared on The Island in 2018 on the ‘rich team’. At the time, he said he was an ‘acquired taste’

Mr Thomas, from nearby Penzance, previously appeared on The Island in 2018 on the ‘rich team’. He became unpopular with some viewers, and his £80,000 Range Rover was vandalised soon after the first episode.

Speaking at the time, he said: ‘I’m an acquired taste, people either love me or they hate me.’

He runs an Auctioneers from a three-storey £735,000 house in Penzance, and bought up 40 acres of land in a nearby hamlet, where homes go for between £505,000 and £675,500.

Along with the land, he bought six saddleback pigs, sheep, cows and even a flock of peacocks – which were immediately eaten by foxes.

The art dealer has clashed with locals in St Just – a remote village a few miles from Lands End – over an 80m by 30m pond he built on his land which lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the St Just District Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.

He says he didn’t realise he needed planning permission but locals say the work is part of an events business he wishes to build on his land.

Commenting on the planning portal, one local said: ‘This is not a pond – it is a lake.’ 

Pictures taken by local residents show that the pond is large enough for boats to be taken out

Pictures taken by local residents show that the pond is large enough for boats to be taken out 

Pictured, water is pumped in to the artificial lake on Mr Thomas' land near St Just in Cornwall

Pictured, water is pumped in to the artificial lake on Mr Thomas’ land near St Just in Cornwall 

MailOnline paid a visit to the lake (pictured), which has since become empty empty of water this week

MailOnline paid a visit to the lake (pictured), which has since become empty empty of water this week

Peter Gardner, who lives in the village of Kelynack close to the valley, is very much opposed to the construction of the lake

Peter Gardner, who lives in the village of Kelynack close to the valley, is very much opposed to the construction of the lake

Retired firefighter Peter Gardner, 72, said: ‘Several people are furious but they don’t want to put their names to anything.’

Janet Gardner, 73, said: ‘Some people feel intimidated by him, I don’t any more but I’m cautious. I thought why should I be frightened when the damage is being done to this precious environment.

‘Why be like this? Why not integrate? Why does he have to make an enemy of everybody? 

‘He’s like a narcissist that feels everybody has got to hate him. Why not integrate into the community? He grew up here and could quite easily fit in with everybody but he doesn’t want to, he seems to enjoy this aggression.

‘He says everybody hates him but he hasn’t done anything to make anybody like him.’

Another neighbour, who didn’t want to be named, described him as a ‘typical bully who doesn’t get their hands dirty’.

Residents say they first noticed digging in the valley in December 2020 but were initially told Mr Thomas had the necessary permission. 

In April 2021 a neighbouring stream was apparently dammed to divert water and fill the pond but, following complaints to Cornwall Council, this was removed.

Mr Thomas has also erected one metre-high wire fences either side of a footpath crossing his land on what was previously open field.

Pictured is a double fenced footpath around the property, preventing people from walking over the land where the pond has been constructed

Pictured is a double fenced footpath around the property, preventing people from walking over the land where the pond has been constructed

Pictured is the home of Mr Thomas, where the land is located

Pictured is the home of Mr Thomas, where the land is located

A stream through the Cot Valley pictured dammed with stones, which he was made to remove

A stream through the Cot Valley pictured dammed with stones, which he was made to remove

Mrs Gardner added: ‘When the council made him remove the dam there were dozens of fish left to die. The eels have been dying off and the badgers have had no water. 

‘The fish and eels couldn’t get upstream and it’s still recovering now.

‘The fencing he’s got up, you’re not going to see a badger or a fox or a rabbit go through because it’s so well fenced. All anybody wants is to see the valley reinstated as it was.

‘He can live in his house and enjoy the view but we would like the valley back as it was.’

Mrs Gardner set up a petition opposing the pond which has received 4,500 signatures.

A retrospective planning application received 83 public comments. Cornwall Council this week voted to refuse retrospective permission although Mr Thomas has the right to appeal the decision.

Local resident Julia Huart, 79, said the area held special significance for her as her late husband’s ashes were scattered through the Cot Valley.

She said: ‘I’ve been here 40 years and just enjoy the peace and quiet until that stupid idiot decided to do what he did and it ruined it.

Janet Gardner, 73, said locals are 'intimidated by him' but she set up a petition opposing the pond which has received 4,500 signatures

Janet Gardner, 73, said locals are ‘intimidated by him’ but she set up a petition opposing the pond which has received 4,500 signatures

The fake prehistoric stone circle that has been recently erected on the side of the valley

The fake prehistoric stone circle that has been recently erected on the side of the valley

‘It’s placing a huge stress on people locally, it’s bad enough that we have Putin and Trump in this world but I just can’t understand the selfishness and arrogance of acting this way.

‘It’s a special and unique area with a history that goes back centuries and that needs to be protected.’

Sally-Ann Oates, 35, whose family have farmed locally for 150 years, said: ‘The footpath goes right across his land so instead of letting people just walk across it the fencing stops any deviation.

‘I’m concerned because the lake is directly under the flight path to Lands End airport. His solicitor said it’s for wildlife so he wants to attract all these birds to his lake but you have small aircraft flying low over it.

‘A bird strike is a worry because it would be fatal. The runway is half a mile away.

‘Some people now are living with the threat and the worry of not only their homes flooding but a plane coming down on their heads.

‘God forbid it ever happens but that threat is always there’

At Tuesday’s planning meeting, Chris Pearson, airport manager and senior air traffic control officer at Land’s End, spoke out against the lake as it was directly beneath the flightpath of planes heading to the runway.

He said: ‘No other airport would or should support such a proposal. It is surely the primary task of all parties to ensure the continued safety of the public above all other matters?’

Councillors rejected the retrospective application, stating it ‘would permanently alter the character and appearance of the application site and consequently Cot Valley’ .

At Tuesday's planning meeting, Chris Pearson, airport manager and senior air traffic control officer at Land's End, spoke out against the lake

At Tuesday’s planning meeting, Chris Pearson, airport manager and senior air traffic control officer at Land’s End, spoke out against the lake

Pictured is a plane whose flight path crosses the lake half a mile from the runway

Pictured is a plane whose flight path crosses the lake half a mile from the runway

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Chris Tofts, head of Stephens Scown solicitors’ planning team, said the pond was created to provide a wildlife area and water for cattle. He said it was currently empty and had been for some time.

He said Mr Thomas had taken the airport’s concerns seriously and carried out a bird strike hazard assessment. Mitigation included dense vegetation or fencing around the pond and no islands on the pond, which had been proposed as a condition by the planning officer.

Mr Thomas did not respond to a request for comment, but shortly after MailOnline contacted his representatives, several people emailed stating they were friends and neighbours of Mr Thomas who supported his application. 

Gillian Hocking wrote: ‘I have had dealings with Mr Thomas and have never found him bullying or intimidating, quite the opposite.’ 

Mark Hankins added: ‘I own the land immediately abutting and opposite this site and have been there on virtually a daily basis, throughout the period of the works in question.

‘During this time, and subsequently, I have not experienced or witnessed any detrimental impact whatsoever to the environment or wildlife in the vicinity. 

‘On the contrary, both my wife and I – as well as other close neighbours – have seen an increase in wildlife activity since the pond was created. 

‘In addition, the livestock Mr Thomas has introduced to the restored surrounding fields has further enhanced the ambience of this landscape.’

And the retrospective planning permission has been recommended for approval by the council, which said the proposal is ‘finely balanced’.

It will go to a committee for a decision due to the level of public interest in the case. 

A report recommends conditional approval, reading: ‘The scale of the development in respect of the visual impact is not considered to be substantial and consequently the impact upon the Cornwall National Landscape, Heritage Coast and World Heritage Site (WHS) is not considered to warrant the refusal of planning permission.’



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