Fenland drain has blue-green algae outbreak on the Ouse Washes

Anglers and members of the public warned to keep away from potentially toxic bloom between Welney Bridge and Welches Dam on Norfolk and Cambridgeshire border

Environment Agency officers have discovered suspected toxic algae in a Fenland drain.

The agency has issued a warning for the public to stay away from the water along the Counter Drain, between Welney Bridge and Welches Dam on the Ouse Washes.

The algae bloom - known as blue-green algae - is known to cause illness in humans and animals.

It was revealed by routine water sampling and the agency has notified farmers, water abstractors and angling clubs. Warning signs have also gone up along the stretch of water to alert the public.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: 'Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are natural inhabitants of many inland waters, estuaries and the sea. In certain conditions they form blooms and can produce a surface scum.

'Blooms and scums are capable of producing toxins and are known to have caused the death of wild animals, farm livestock, domestic pets and have been major contributors to fish kills.

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'Rashes have occurred on humans following skin contact and illnesses have occurred when blue-green algae have been swallowed. Although blooms and scums are not always toxic, it is not possible to tell from their appearance whether a particular one is harmful or not. As there is at least a one in two chance of it being toxic, caution is advised.'

Officers have been monitoring the water for the last week after more than 50 fish were discovered struggling near the surface on Friday.

Tests revealed that dissolved oxygen levels within the watercourse were significantly low, causing the fish to gasp for breath. The water was aerated using specialist equipment to prevent the fish dying.

The situation had improved, but the latest development could cause further distress to the recovering fish population.

Warnings will remain in place until the algal count drops to a safe level, with staff testing the water regularly.

More information is available from the Environment Agency's Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60 or website www.environment-agency.gov.uk

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