Fish Legal has secured a £36,000 settlement for a member club, Grantham Angling Association (GAA), from a farmer responsible for polluting the River Witham near Grantham with approximately 6,000 litres of liquid fertiliser in April 2012.
The fertiliser spill was estimated to have killed over 2,000 wild brown trout – some up to 24 inches in length and up to 4lb in weight – and countless fish of other species in the Witham.
It spread over 13km of the river, causing the closure of four sections of the angling club’s waters.
The Environment Agency, which prosecuted the farmer for the incident, estimated that the river would take around six to eight years to recover after the pollution.
GAA’s claim followed a £15,000 fine imposed on the farmer – Robert C Grindal t/a C J Grindal - by Grantham Magistrates’ Court, and an order to pay £6,761 in legal costs incurred by the Environment Agency as part of its prosecution case.
Mr Grindal will also have to pay the angling club’s legal costs, on top of (and as a condition of) the £36,000 settlement.
The Environment Agency categorised the incident as a “category 1” pollution (the most serious) and said during the prosecution: “This was a very serious incident with devastating effects on the environment. The effects could have been minimised had there been proper plans in place for fertiliser spills. Anyone who handles, stores or transports materials that could cause pollution should have procedures in place to prevent and minimise such pollution from occurring.”
Cameron Hogg, a solicitor at Fish Legal, said: “While pleased that Fish Legal has settled its claim, our member club would much prefer that the pollution had not happened. It could have been avoided if the farmer had taken additional care while moving the fertiliser and/or properly trained his farm workers in preventing and containing pollution.
“In fact, the Environment Agency’s prosecution highlighted that the impact of the spill would have been significantly reduced if Mr Grindal had followed the Agency’s telephone advice – given soon after the spill – to block off the receiving watercourse.”
He added: “Hopefully, the total of over £57,000 in fines, costs and compensation will serve as a warning to others that a lack of planning and care in dealing with agricultural products which may harm the environment can prove very costly indeed.”
Darryl Maelzer, treasurer of GAA, said: “Members of the Grantham Angling Association Fly Fishing Section – who fly fish for wild brown trout and grayling in the Witham – work tirelessly to protect and enhance the river and its wildlife. The club has received awards from the Wild Trout Trust for its conservation work. One careless act by a farmer has undermined all of those efforts for years to come on several stretches of our fly fishing waters.”
He added: “We are very pleased at the settlement obtained on our behalf through Fish Legal, and would like to stress the importance of being a member of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, without whom we would have had a difficult time in obtaining a satisfactory outcome.
“We would rather the incident had not happened in the first place, as we are still several years away from the polluted stretches of the river returning to their previous natural state. As a result of the settlement, GAA and its flyfishing section (GAAFFS) will be able to continue their long standing programme of river improvements on the Upper Witham.”
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “This was a particularly bad example of the widespread problem of agricultural pollution and I’m pleased that Fish Legal has been able to win compensation for our member club for the damage caused by this careless handling of chemicals.
“Hundreds of other rivers are being degraded by smaller pollution incidents from agriculture which collectively cause the death of fish and other wildlife. Hopefully the combination of fines and compensation in this case will encourage others to treat fertilisers and pesticides with the utmost care, and consider switching to farming methods which require fewer artificial inputs.”