Farming firm hit with £45,000 court bill for polluting watercourses
A company growing energy crops has been ordered to pay £45,648.50 in fines, costs and compensation after polluting two Fenland watercourses.
Pretoria Energy Company (Arable) Limited, which produces feedstock for a sister company's anaerobic digestion plants, admitted causing the pollution incidents at Little Racy Drain, a tributary of the Forty Foot Drain in Emneth Hungate in west Norfolk, and the New Cut Drain (West) at Aldreth in Cambridgeshire.
Cambridge Magistrates' Court was told that both incidents were caused by silage "liquor" leaking from ag-bags - large bags often stored on fields and filled with agricultural feeds which, once sealed, should be airtight.
In this case they were each 77m long and contained up to 318 tonnes of silage.
As large amounts of gas and liquid can build up in these airtight bags, the Environment Agency said they need regular maintenance such as releasing the gas to prevent bags bursting, and draining liquids to stop them escaping into the environment.
Following reports of a potential pollution incident at Emneth on February 7, 2017, Environment Agency officers found that silage liquor was leaking from some of the eight ag-bags on site. Sewage fungus was found growing 300m downstream of the incident.
Despite assurances from a company representative that the bags would be removed, the court heard that some were still found on site during two subsequent visits.
At a separate location in Aldreth, reports of potential pollution were received on May 26 and 30, 2017.
Although eight of the 14 bags on site had completely failed by bursting or leaking, it was believed the silage liquor had been contained and had not entered the watercourse.
However, during a second visit on June 1, Environment Agency officers inspected the watercourse and found the water was "black, smelt stagnant and there was sewage fungus on the edges of the water's surface up to 535m downstream from the point it entered the watercourse".
Samples taken on 23 June 23 found the water to be "clearly harmful" to the biodiversity of the watercourse.
The company admitted causing the pollution in both instances. It said it had tried to identify drains on the site at Emneth and had checked the ag-bags, but admitted to not pumping out any of the silage liquor which ended up in the watercourse.
At Aldreth, the company cited the extreme weather for the bursting of the ag-bags and said the ground had been too hard to absorb some of the liquid.
After the sentencing on August 8, environment officer Joe Vervaeke said: "We are satisfied with the sentence handed out today and hope it acts as a deterrent to others.
"The silage liquor which leaked from the ag-bags into the watercourses would have had a detrimental effect on the environment so it is only right that the company responsible should be held to account."