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Cumbrian farm fined £1,600 after slurry leak kills 6,000 fish

Carlisle Magistrates Court
Carlisle Magistrates Court

[A] Cumbrian farming partnership has been fined £1,600 for an illegal discharge of farm slurry that polluted Skitwath Beck at Penruddock near Penrith.

JM & M Harris, which operates Whitbarrow Farm at Berrier was sentenced today (29 November) at Carlisle Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to polluting a local watercourse.

The Environment Agency prosecuted the farm after a member of the public reported a ‘thick brown’ slurry entering Skitwath Beck on the 8th September, 2015.

An Environment Agency Officer attended the scene later the same day and noted the beck at Penruddock, which under normal circumstances is of excellent water quality and an important spawning ground for salmon and trout, was green in colour with a strong odour of slurry.

A water sample was obtained and the results, on analysis, confirmed the watercourse was highly polluted at levels that would be harmful to the water environment and toxic to fish.

An investigation confirmed major fish mortality along a 4.3km section of Skitwath Beck, with over 6,000 dead fish counted including salmon, brown trout, stone loach and stickleback.

The slurry had entered the beck after a spillage at the farm the previous evening when a sluice gate on a slurry store had become jammed. This led to the loss of around 5,000 gallons of slurry, some of which had entered the watercourse through a sinkhole at the nearby Whitbarrow Holiday Village.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said, “This incident, which led to the deaths of thousands of fish, may have been avoided with the exercise of greater care. Farms have a duty to ensure their operations do not pose a threat to the environment. In this case JM & M Harris failed to prevent the escape of slurry in the event of the sluice jam and failed to report the incident. Had the incident been reported to the Environment Agency, we may have been able to take action much more quickly to reduce the impact of the pollution on the river and its fish.”

“We hope the court’s sentencing demonstrates to other farms and businesses the importance of taking their environmental obligations seriously. We would also urge anyone who sees any pollution of this kind to report it to us on our incident hotline on 0800 807060 so we can investigate.”

In mitigation, JM & M Harris said that this had been a one-off incident and that steps had since been taken to prevent a recurrence.

JM & M Harris was also ordered to pay £3,500 costs.

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