A David-and-Goliath battle has erupted over a small patch of land in Leicestershire, as its owner tries to stop Severn Trent forcing its way onto his land.
The water company wants to lay a new outfall sewer pipe running from its works near Osgathorpe to the River Trent - but needs to dig up Stephen Duffill’s property in order to do so.
A letter sent to Stephen, seen by ITV News Central, reveals the six-month project will rip up a stretch of land more than 40 metres wide.
“I'm going to fight it as much as it can,” he said.
“It's one man against one big company, but I'm not backing down. I'm not afraid of Severn Trent.”
The land was bought by Stephen’s father in the 80s, and handed down to him to continue tending.
He says it’s helped him overcome battles with his mental health, and now he keeps it as a haven for wildlife.
“I’ve got roe deer, which come on and graze, I have squirrels, hares, rabbits - I have all sorts,” he said.
“It means the world to me because my dad left it to me, and it's my responsibility to look after it and look after all the animals we have on it.
“If Severn Trent have their way, we’ll lose all of that.”
It’s also where he and his family have buried their beloved pets over the years, and he said it’s “devastating” to think of their graves being torn up if the work goes ahead.
His mother, who is now 87 years old and in ill health, has written a heartfelt plea to Severn Trent, begging them to reconsider what she called “disgusting” plans.
“I’m worried about my little animals [which are] buried there,” it says.
“It sounds daft, but when they [were] put to rest I promised no body would hurt them ever again.
“So please, let them rest.”
The letter from Severn Trent also reveals that even once the works are done, Stephen will have to permit workers access in future - while restrictions will be placed on the land, banning him from building any permanent or temporary structures within eight metres of the new pipe.
It adds: “The planting of trees and some deep-rooted shrubs will not be permitted, as the roots may cause damage to the pipe.”
While it does say that compensation will be offered, it will only cover “direct losses” - and as Stephen does not make any money from his land, he fears it will be minimal.
And, he said, nowhere near enough to make up for the emotional and environmental losses suffered.
“It’ll be like ripping my heart out,” he said.
“It's like me coming to your house and saying ‘right, I'm going to drive a great big drain through your driveway and there's nothing you can damn well do about it. I'm a big company. You can't stop me’.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right.”
He’s being supported by the former leader of the Parish Council, Martin Buczkiewicz, who is urging Severn Trent to rethink its plans.
“Stephen has been treated very unfairly,” he said.
“We have proposed an alternative route for the pipe which we believe is perfectly feasible, but Severn Trent won’t listen. Nobody has even given him the courtesy of coming to meet him.
“That pipe will cut his small holding in half. It will destroy it, basically.
“Severn Trent wants to destroy 40 meters of hedgerow [on one side], and 40 meters [on the other]. There are wrens, robins, I heard wood warblers there yesterday - and a lot of that wildlife will be destroyed. That will take years to grow back again.”
Severn Trent insists the pipe will carry treated water, not sewage.
Senior project manager Deborah Goodale said: “This essential work is vital in helping reduce flood risk and ensuring that waste water is dealt with effectively for local communities.
"We do understand the impact projects like this can have and local landowners have been consulted and will be compensated if their land needs to be crossed.
"We have carried out extensive wildlife surveys to identify protected species along the route to minimise impact on their habitats. We will replace or enhance any habitats disturbed or impacted.”
But Stephen insists he is willing to be taken to court, if necessary, to stop the works going ahead.
“Someone needs to stand up and say ‘no, that’s enough, we’re not going to let you roll over us like this’,” he said.
“I don’t have any money to take them to court myself. But if they want to take me there, to get a court order, I’ll happily stand up and have my say.”