Polluter to put river right after serious spill

The company responsible for a serious pollution that killed over 100,000 fish has now been told how they’re expected to aid its recovery – by creating new, better habitats within the river and maintaining these for at least the next decade.

The Environment Agency has outlined the measures Omex Agriculture Ltd must take in order to restore the river to its former health, issuing a remediation notice under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2015.

It’s only the second time since the legislation has come into force that it’s been used to have a polluter put right environmental damage they caused.

In March 2018, Omex was responsible for polluting the River Witham with ammonia, which severely damaged the river and its ecosystems. The pollution affected over 40 kilometres of river from Bardney to the Wash and killed over 100,000 fish. It is thought to be the worst river pollution incident ever recorded in the county.

But now a plan has been set forward outlining how Omex will help the river bounce back over the next decade.

By the end of this year, Omex must investigate and design a number of habitat improvements to help boost the river’s ecology, such as fish refuges and improved woody and marginal areas to help them shelter, spawn and feed.

Fish refuges are to be installed across half a dozen locations on the river by the end of January, with other habitat improvement works completed by the end of June 2021.

Omex must also look at whether it’s possible to create further backwaters along the river – calm, still areas where fish can breed and shelter, especially when flows in the main river are high – with the intention of completing this work by spring of 2022.

Once the works are complete, the company must assess whether fish populations have recovered, or whether more fish restocking is required to bring the river back to its former state of health.

And Omex will be responsible for monitoring and maintaining the improvements for at least the next decade.

Thomas Enright, Environment Manager at the Environment Agency, said:

We know the pollution had a devastating impact on the River Witham and its ecosystems, but this innovative approach means both its health and habitats will be restored, helping repair the damage done.

This is a prime example of how we can hold a polluter to account while also keeping the environment at the heart of what we do, for people and nature.

The initial proposals were developed by the company before being shared with the Environment Agency for scrutiny and expert advice. After a thorough review, final plans have been agreed and the company has 28 days to appeal.

The proposals were finalised the same week as the Environment Agency launched its’ 5 year plan, outlining how it plans to lead the way toward a greener, healthier future – including by improving more than 4,000 kilometres of river across the country.

Immediately after the pollution, the Environment Agency and partners worked tirelessly to mitigate the impacts and have since restocked the river with more than 1.5 million fish larvae and 70,000 roach and bream.

Meanwhile, the investigation under the Environmental Permitting Regulations has concluded and court proceedings have started – a hearing date is pending.

Anyone who suspects a pollution incident is urged to report it to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

/Public Release. View in full here.