Southern Water, which provides water and wastewater for East Kent, parts of Sussex, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, is facing a private prosecution for polluting the River Test in Hampshire.

Environmental organisation Fish Legal last week served summons on the water company at its head office in Worthing. The charges relate to pollution entering the Test from an outfall operated by Southern Water at Nursling Industrial Estate near Southampton.

The world-renowned River Test is a rare chalkstream habitat, one of only around 200 such rivers in the world.  It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest supporting Atlantic salmon, otters, water voles, brook lamprey, and bullhead but less than 18% of it is in ‘favourable’ condition.  The section between Romsey and the estuary, the focus of the criminal case, is currently classified as ‘unfavourable’ due to polluting discharges.

Pollution has been entering the Test from Nursling Industrial Estate for decades without any effective enforcement action being taken by the Environment Agency. In March this year, Fish Legal made the regulator aware that it was stepping in to take its own private prosecution against Southern Water following diesel pollution in 2021 and 2022.

George Graham, Chair of Fish Legal, said: “After years without effective action by the Environment Agency, we have been forced to take a private prosecution to protect this precious chalkstream. Both the water company and regulator are fully aware of the persistent pollution coming from this outfall. We cannot stand by any longer and wait for them to act.”

He added: “Ordinarily we use the civil law to take legal action against polluters on behalf of our angler members. However, in this case, we have taken the unusual step of going through the criminal courts.”