Company fined after pig effluent causes water pollution

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A company that runs a pig farm in Essex has been fined £15,000 after effluent from its animals twice polluted a ditch which drains into the Colne Estuary.

A.M. Gray & Co Limited caused water pollution on two occasions after pig slurry from their Bocking Hall Pig Farm, in West Mersea, got into a tributary of the Pyefleet Channel earlier this year.

The company pleaded guilty to two charges of causing polluting pig slurry to enter the tributary at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court today (Tuesday 9 July). They also pleaded guilty to failing to notify the Environment Agency of the first incident.

They were fined £10,000 and £2,500 for the pollutions and fined £2,500 for failing to notify the Environment Agency. They will also have to pay full costs of £3,576.90 and a victim surcharge of £120.

The farm keeps young pigs in units over slatted floors with effluent containment tanks beneath them. Liquid waste from the pigs, in the form of slurry, is stored below the houses until the tanks are full. It is then released into a gravity-fed blind ditch, and then pumped into earth-banked lagoons.

After sustained rainfall last winter, the lagoons became full and slurry overflowed into drainage ditches which connect to the Broad Fleet, and the Colne Estuary’s Pyeffleet Channel - a site of international conservation importance for birds.

An Environment Agency investigation also found that the company had failed to protect the banks of the lagoon from vermin, including rats, whose burrows assisted the flow of slurry. Embankments and crests were also not cleared of vegetation, furthering weakening the banks.

Peter Cooke, from the Environment Agency, said: “The pig slurry that escaped was grossly polluting with toxic levels of ammonia detected.

“The storage of slurry in an earth-banked lagoon is not a failsafe system.

“Though the company had prepared an Accident Management Plan, it was not implemented quickly and staff did not prevent a continuing escape from the lagoon in a timely fashion.

“The company attempted to reduce the levels of the lagoon by irrigating the surrounding arable fields, which led to a re-contamination due to the run-off entering the drainage ditch leading to Broad Fleet.

“By excavating a drainage channel in the fields close to the lagoon, the company increased the risk of a pollution incident occurring.

“The company did not have in place a maintenance regime for the embankments, a water level management plan for the lagoon and the first incident was not reported to the Environment Agency.”

Andrew Logan, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, told the court that the organisation received a report from a member of the public that pig effluent was running into the Pyefleet Channel from land at Bocking Hall on 23 January 2013.

The investigating officer found high levels of slurry in the lagoons. The slurry was coming from a hole approximately 120mm across on the north bank of the lagoon. Effluent was streaming down the bank from the hole and pooling in a field 10 metres north of the lagoon.

Follow-up visits were carried out where lagoon levels were no longer overflowing. A letter was written to A.M. Gary on 15 February to advise that slurry storage must be rigorously monitored to prevent further escapes.

However, on 22 March, the manager at Bocking Hall contacted the Agency to say that slurry had entered a pond and watercourse.

Whilst spreading slurry onto fields, the self-propelled slurry irrigator had stopped, causing slurry to pool on the field and run off into a surface water drain and from there into a pond.

A company’s director and Bocking Hall’s manager both attended interviews under caution and identified steps to remedy the situation by obtaining a survey of the lagoon, damming channels and pumping contaminated water from Broad Fleet to the lagoon.

They entered early guilty pleas to all three charges.

The above photograph was taken on 22 March 2013 of grossly contaminated surface water ditch on boundary between field and The Old Rectory, East Mesea Rd, Essex.

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