River Leadon pollution costs farming couple more than £62K
Husband and wife farmers Mark and Anne Bennion have been ordered to pay more than £62,000 having pleaded guilty at Hereford Magistrates' Court to charges related to the pollution of Preston Brook and the River Leadon.
More than 15,200 fish were killed as a result of the incident in which hundreds of tonnes of digestate were discharged into the river. The Bennions are the sole partners of the partnership that own and run Rose Hill Farm at Dymock.
The incident took place on July 22, 2016 when an employee was instructed by Mark Bennion to fertilise one of the orchards. The employee turned on the irrigation system designed to take the digestate fertiliser from a lagoon to the orchard.
However, he had not physically checked and therefore did not know that the valve linked to the standpipe in another field was partly open. As a result, when the fertiliser entered the irrigation system, it discharged out of the standpipe, across the field and into Preston Brook.
The discharge pump operates at 100 tonnes an hour, therefore a very large amount of polluting digestate entered the watercourse. The discharge was the worst in ten years in the area.
Mark Bennion liaised with Environment Agency (EA) officers and submitted a proposal for dredging the brook to remove all contaminates. This was completed on August 12, 2016.
Surveys conducted after the incident show the fish population within the watercourse have been significantly adversely impacted. The Leadon is an important habitat for eels and a significant number of adults were lost as a result of the pollution.
In passing sentence, the magistrates sought to achieve a balance between the major adverse impact on the watercourse and the powerful mitigation put forward on the defendants’ behalf. The Bennions were both previously of good character, with no previous convictions, and co-operated with the EA immediately after the incident. Their remorse was evident throughout the investigation and court hearing.
Since the incident, the EA has restocked the river with more than 15,000 fish. The restocking process will continue over the next four years.
Speaking after the case an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Agriculture is the single biggest source of serious pollution incidents and all farmers have a duty to prevent it. This was one of the worst pollution incidents on a watercourse in the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire area in the last ten years. It significantly affected a stretch of the River Leadon catchment. We are pleased that the court has accepted the seriousness of the case and imposed appropriate penalties."
The Bennions were each fined £5,500 and each ordered to pay £25,798 in costs along with a victim surcharge of £170.
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