Fish Legal has sent a ‘letter before action’ to a farmer’s insurers claiming compensation for its member club Grantham Angling Association (GAA). The claim relates to the farmer polluting the river Witham near Grantham in April 2012 with approximately 6,000 litres of liquid fertiliser, killing at least a thousand fish.

The Environment Agency (EA) said that the impact would have been significantly reduced if the polluting farmer, Robert C Grindal t/a C J Grindal had followed EA telephone advice to block off the receiving watercourse.

Grantham Magistrates were told that emergency procedures at the farm were inadequate. Staff were not trained in environmental risks and relied on Mr Grindal in an emergency. However, he did not know what to do and was apparently unaware of the polluting effects of fertiliser on the river.

The pollution, which happened when a tractor towing a bowser of the fertiliser toppled into a ditch, killed over 700 wild brown trout (a “minimum estimate” according to the EA) and countless smaller species over approx 13km. It required four sections of GAA’s fishery to be closed down. As most fish killed in pollutions are washed away, eaten or sink to the riverbed, a truer fish kill estimate is likely to be well over 2,000 fish.

GAA’s fishery at the Witham is a wild brown trout fishery which the EA estimates will take around 6 to 8 years to recover. The EA categorised the incident as a “category 1” pollution (the most serious) and said at the Magistrate’s Court: “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.” 1

Mr Grindal was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay full EA costs of £6,761 by Grantham Magistrate’s Court after pleading guilty to causing the pollution. However, none of that money helps GAA’s fishery to recover. Fish Legal’s letter claims for the club’s losses including partial re-stocking and legal costs, but mainly for loss of angling amenity for the affected beats during the long recovery period.

Cameron Hogg, Solicitor at Fish Legal, said

“Anyone carrying anything toxic which could poison a watercourse must act with caution. Great care should be taken, with appropriate training in environmental risks, to avoid and minimise pollution. If the worst should happen, there should be a plan in place for what to do about it – which did not happen in this case. It is particularly disappointing that the EA says Mr Grindal ignored their advice soon after the spill occurred. We will fight for damages to help our member club recover and restore its fishing, but they would of course prefer that the pollution never happened.”

He further said:

“Agricultural operators pose a major threat to the water environment and must adopt better working practices to avoid such incidents in future. Ignorance is not acceptable, and as can be seen in this case, is no defence in law.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said:

“This case highlights the damage that farm chemicals can do to the water environment and the importance of handling them with great care, which has become routine in most other industries. The impact of this incident will be felt for many years by the angling club and the huge range of wildlife that relies on clean water to survive. We will do everything we can to get the best settlement possible for our member club to help them bring the river back to life and to compensate them for losses they have incurred.”  

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