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UK: Farm fined for polluting stream near Devon beauty spot

A dark brown effluent was discharging from a pipe on the left bank of the watercourse just below Welsford Bridge.

The owners of a North Devon dairy farm have been ordered to pay £5,623 in fines and costs for polluting a stream near a popular coastal beauty spot.

The case was brought by the Environment Agency.

In January 2012 the Agency was contacted by a member of the public after they saw pollution in the Speke’s Mill Stream near Hartland. The stream runs through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and discharges into the sea via a spectacular 60ft waterfall at Speke’s Mill Mouth. This stretch of the North Devon coastline is especially popular with walkers and surfers.

An Agency officer saw the stream was heavily discoloured and smelled of slurry. A dark brown effluent was discharging from a pipe on the left bank of the watercourse just below Welsford Bridge.

The pollution was traced to Welsford Farm where a slurry store was found to be ‘brim full’. There was a pool of slurry on the ground beside the store. The slurry had run down a bank into a ditch before draining under a gateway and into the Speke’s Mill Stream.

The owner of Welsford Farm, Mr Paul Colwill, said there were 450 cows at the farm – 380 of which were used for milking. They were housed indoors for six months of the year. Mr Colwill said wet weather had prevented the spreading slurry on the land and this had caused the store to fill up. He had delayed spreading to avoid run-off and pollution.

The slurry store was built approximately 14 years ago when the farm had 350 cows. The owners had since covered more of the yard to reduce the amount of rainwater entering the storage lagoon. This had increased its capacity. However, the lagoon had not been emptied since before the winter reducing its capacity.

Liz Iles speaking for the Environment Agency, said:
"This pollution was the result of not so much a lack of storage capacity, but poor management. We accept the farm was reluctant to spread slurry with heavy rain forecast, but they should have realised the storage lagoon was close to overtopping and acted much sooner to reduce the risk of pollution,...

Approximately a mile of the Speke’s Mill Stream was polluted as a result of the slurry spill."

BR, MJ & PJ Colwill, the partnership operating Welsford Farm at Hartland near Bideford, Devon was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £1,623 costs after pleading guilty to discharging poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to a tributary of the Speke’s Mill Stream on or about January 10, 2012, an offence under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010. The case was heard by Barnstaple magistrates on Nov 7.