Water Industry News

Farmer Fined £11,000 For Polluting A Watercourse

A Somerset-based farmer has been handed down a £11,000 fine after pleading guilty to polluting a tributary of Sedgemoor Old Rhyne on three separate occasions for the second time in five years.


Ben Hembrow, of Huntham Farm in Stoke St Gregory, was fined after low dissolved oxygen levels in the waterway were identified, with an Environment Agency investigation finding that a tributary had been polluted with slurry.


This was then traced back to Huntham Farm, where a slurry lagoon had overtopped. The slurry had run across a track on the farm, collected in an orchard and then entered the watercourse, polluting over 1.5km of water in the process. Although Hembrow had taken action to prevent further pollution, slurry was still visible a week later.


In a second incident, investigations found more pollution in the same tributary, with a surface water drain discharging into the water. Dye tracing was used to confirm that the drain had been contaminated with runoff from dirty yards.


And in the third case, slurry spreading activity on nearby fields where slurry had been applied at a rate that caused it to run off into a ditch led to the tributary being polluted by slurry once again.


Just downstream of the tributary, the watercourse enters the West Sedgemoor Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Somerset Levels and Moors Special Protection Area and RAMSAR site.


The Environment Agency’s Jo Masters commented on the news, saying: “It was disappointing to find continual pollution from Huntham Farm following a previous prosecution in 2016. We always strive to work with farmers to reduce the risk of pollution, protect the environment, and ensure they are compliant with the regulations.”


This follows the publication of a Troubled Waters report from the RSPB, the National Trust and the Rivers Trust, which revealed that waterways around the UK are being devastated by agricultural waste and pollution, as well as raw sewage and pollution from abandoned mines.


Because of this widespread failure to control pollution, water quality is being ruined – which is leading to the destruction of some of the country’s most iconic species, including salmon, otters and the swallowtail butterfly.


One of the main drivers behind water pollution was identified as being the poorly regulated use of pesticides and fertilisers in farming.


As such, the report went on to call for new measures to cut pesticide and excessive fertiliser use in farming, making the move instead to regenerative practices, as well as banning raw sewage from reaching rivers and bringing in system change to the planning approval process.


The government did recently bring in more support and funding for farmers to help them reduce water and air pollution, delivered via the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. This scheme has already succeeded in driving the number of serious pollution incidents down by nearly a fifth.


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