Cowdray Estate prosecuted for Midhurst river pollution

Outfall pipe discarging polluting sediment in River Lod. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE
Outfall pipe discarging polluting sediment in River Lod. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE

THE Cowdray Estate has been prosecuted for a Midhurst river pollution that killed 4,000 fish.

The Environment Agency has prosecuted the Cowdray Estate for polluting 5km of a West Sussex watercourse which resulted in the deaths of 4,000 fish at a Fernhurst fish farm.

The Cowdray Estate of Cowdray Park, Easebourne, appeared at Worthing Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, October 9. The Estate pleaded guilty to the offence and was fined £5,000, ordered to pay costs of £10,596 and £120 victim surcharge.

The court heard that in July 2012, the Estate carried out routine forestry activities at Verdley Wood on its grounds to provide timber for commercial use.

Unfortunately the logging and transportation of the cut timber during the very wet conditions that month resulted in the escape of soil sediment from uprooted trees and the wet ground conditions.

This highly polluting sediment ran off the wet land and straight into a local watercourse - having a major impact on a tributary of the River Lod which runs through the area.

On July 10, the owner of Surney Fish Farm near Fernhurst contacted the Environment Agency to report a major fish kill at the premises.

Environment Agency officers had also visited the fish farm the previous month regarding reports of sediment entering one of the lakes.

On arrival at the latest incident, Environment Agency officers confirmed that the fish farm had been significantly polluted by sedimentation.

This pollution was traced to Verdley Wood where forestry activities were still ongoing by Cowdray Estate staff without regard to the persistent heavy rainfall and deteriorating ground conditions.

The Estate was instructed to install siltation traps in the watercourse to minimise any further pollution and to stop all work at the site immediately.

Investigations found that 5km of the watercourse had been adversely affected and the pollution had entered the fish farm killing over 4,000 fish. As a result the water intake into the fish farm had to be stopped for a number of days which had additional adverse impacts for the business.

Mat Jackson of the Environment Agency said: “It is very disappointing that such a large estate with a great number of resources at its disposal failed to plan effectively to ensure that the sensitive local environment was not put at risk.

“As a result a large of number of fish needlessly died and a local fishery was devastated by a totally avoidable incident.”

In mitigation, the Cowdray Estate apologised for the incident and said at no stage was the offence carried out deliberately. The Estate also co-operated fully with the Environment Agency regarding the incident investigation.

Magistrates presiding over the case acknowledged the Estate’s willingness to assist the Environment Agency throughout the incident and their previous good record. However they said they were careless in carrying out the work in such extreme rainfall and this resulted in serious consequences for the local environment.

Following the case, Lord Cowdray’s agent, Mr Robert Windle, released the following statement:

“I regret to confirm this unfortunate incident did take place following the unprecedented rainfall during May and June in 2012.

“Initially, the Estate stood accused by the Environment Agency of “recklessly” causing the discharge of sediment into a tributary of the River Lod near Henley as a result of forestry activities in Verdley Wood.

“However, once the circumstances were fully explained to the Magistrates, the Estate was found to have been careless in its operations, not reckless, and the level of fine reduced accordingly.

“Whilst not wanting to belittle the offence in any way, I would point out that as soon as we were contacted by the Environment Agency (some twelve days after they were first notified of the sediment in the Lod), the Estate took immediate and effective steps to prevent any further sediment flow and we have at all times co-operated with the Environment Agency in their investigation of the incident.”