Fears of a back-room deal have mounted as Severn Trent Water and British Waterways have engaged in negotiations over the sewage pollution of the Shropshire Union and Staffordshire & Worcestershire canals which killed thousands of fish in April 2009.
Several tonnes of sewage poured from the Barnhurst Sewage Treatment Works, wiping out what is so far reported to be tens of thousands of fish along a 30 mile stretch of canal, part of which is leased to Bilston Angling Club and Wolverhampton Angling Association, both of which are members of Fish Legal and the Angling Trust.
The pollution is thought to have wiped out entire generations of different species and the effects will be felt for many years to come.
The Sewage Treatment Works, owned by Severn Trent Water, was thought to have been affected by a chemical which knocked out the bacteria which clean the sewage before it is released into the canal.
It is not yet clear who will ultimately be held responsible for the damage, because the Environment Agency (EA) is still investigating the incident well over a year after it occurred. Anglers are rightly concerned at this delay and the EA has not yet indicated when it will be able to release the details.
British Waterways has admitted to discussions with Severn Trent Water and anglers fear they are being frozen-out of the negotiations due to previous attempts to engage both organisations having been rebuffed.
Fears have been raised that the current stonewalling will lead to an unsatisfactory result for local fishing clubs which lease the waters from British Waterways, and who have found that the quality of fishing has been severely diminished since the pollution.
William Rundle, Fish Legal Solicitor, said, “Whilst it is understandable that the EA cannot provide us with full details because their investigation is ongoing, the delay and lack of consultation are very frustrating. It is difficult to understand how they could have made so little progress over such a long time, or how they can properly understand the impact of the pollution without discussing it with those who have been directly affected.”
“Of much greater concern is the total disregard Severn Trent Water is showing towards the victims of the pollution, which was discharged from their sewage treatment works. Their initial concern has not been followed up with any creditable action or engagement. We have had no communication from them since last year.”
“It is a great shame that despite being publicly funded, British Waterways does not appear to act in the best interests of the public. The lack of transparency to their discussions with Severn Trent over the pollution is worrying. Little progress has been made by an organisation set up to care for our rivers and canals, and no attempt has been made to include or consult those anglers who have been affected, and who know these areas best. British Waterways knows Fish Legal represents some of the clubs affected. We should be included in these discussions.”
John Hall of Bilston Angling Club added, “local canal anglers are absolutely disgusted with how this has been dealt with and match angling has been completely disrupted. British Waterways has previously refused to speak to us about the pollution”
Peter Gough of Wolverhampton Angling Association is similarly frustrated: “British Waterways and Severn Trent seem to have come to some sort of agreement which we have not been involved with. Some promised restocking was not done, and I am not confident that it will now go ahead at all.”