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Fish Legal warns Teifi polluter to expect a claim for damages

02.09.19

Those responsible for the devastating pollution in December 2016 of the River Teifi, one of Wales’ most famous sea trout or ‘sewin’ fisheries, have been warned to expect a claim for damages by local angling groups.

Fish Legal is representing Cymdeithas Pysgota Tregaron Angling Association, the Llandysul Angling Association and an individual owner, all of whom feel let down by the body responsible for environmental protection in Wales.

Natural Resources Wales announced at the end of August that it would not be prosecuting Pencefn Feeds Ltd, the owner of the anaerobic digestor responsible for the pollution which killed tens of thousands of fish in this highly protected river. The environmental regulator has instead accepted an offer from the polluter to pay £15,000 to a local rivers trust and £5,000 to the Countryside Alliance, plus £20,000 to Natural Resources Wales towards the cost of investigating the incident.

Penelope Gane, Fish Legal’s Head of Practice, said:

“Natural Resources Wales’ Guidance on Enforcement and Sanctions says that they will deal with offences consistently. It also states that the regulator will not normally accept an offer of an enforcement undertaking for a Category 1 offence, the most serious type of pollution of which this is an example. The decision by NRW to accept an enforcement undertaking for a pollution that killed tens of thousands of fish – including both adult and juvenile Atlantic salmon and sea trout - over five miles of a European-protected site therefore sends out a clear message to operators of these sorts of facilities that if they pollute the freshwater environment they will not face prosecution. It is difficult to think of an example of when the most serious sanction available to the regulator would be more appropriate and in the public interest."

Donald Patterson, Chairman for Tregaron Angling Association, said:

“We are appalled and dismayed at the news from Natural Resources Wales. After what is reputed to be the worst fish kill in the region in 30 years the ‘light touch’ regulatory response after nearly three years of bureaucratic inactivity is shocking. We will be asking Fish Legal to seek further information as to how such an outcome has arisen. This cannot be treated as an appropriate enforcement response.”

Mr Patterson added: “After 20 years of working in a voluntary capacity with government agencies charged with monitoring and safeguarding the aquatic environment, I now find that any concern for fish welfare within NRW has disappeared. This is a sad outcome not just for fishing but for those who have a genuine respect and passion for the environment."

Dr Ian Thomas, President of Llandysul Angling Association which holds over 30 miles of fishing rights on the Teifi, said:

“We are astonished at the derisory sum paid by the polluter. Running an anaerobic digestor is highly profitable and highly subsidised. We will be demanding an explanation from Natural Resources Wales as to exactly how the figure was reached.”

Colin Chapman, a riparian owner on the famous Welsh river, said:

"The Welsh government continues to squander its natural heritage by starving our environmental regulator and enforcer, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), of sufficient funds to carry out its statutory duties. Allowing this polluter, a large agribusiness, to walk away from a profoundly damaging pollution incident without NRW pressing for criminal charges is unacceptable. The effect of this company allowing its waste to flood into the Teifi has tarnished the reputation of the river, killed thousands of fish, damaged local businesses and destroyed the amenity value provided by clean waters to local and visiting nature lovers. We’re sending out a message that Wales is a nation where it’s cheaper for businesses to pollute than to act responsibly and that environmental crimes carry little risk of prosecution or substantial fines.”

He added: "It took nearly three years for the matter to reach this unsatisfactory conclusion; that alone demonstrates NRW has insufficient means to investigate pollution events efficiently. In 2018 it emerged that out of 3,000 river pollution incidents in Wales only 38 had resulted in a prosecution. The result of this investigation continues that trend making the future for improving the water quality in Welsh rivers extremely uncertain.”

Natural Resources Wales' press release

Contact: Fish Legal - Eastwood House | 6 Rainbow Street | Leominster | HR6 8DQ | Tel: 01568 620447

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