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Dairy fined after pollution kills fish in Devon stream

A Somerset dairy company was today ordered to pay more than £9,000 in fines and costs after milk waste escaped from a North Devon cheese factory and polluted a stream. The case was brought by the Environment Agency.

More than 70 fish including brown trout and bullhead died after waste from Higher Alminstone Farm, Woolsery entered a tributary of the Dipple Water. The farm is the main processing site for cheese manufacturer, Parkham Farms Limited.

The Agency visited the farm on June 29, 2008 after receiving a report of pollution in the Dipple Water. Arriving at Melbury Bridge the officer saw the stream had turned a milky colour. He made his way upstream to Higher Alminstone Farm where he found an underground storage tank overflowing with waste milk.

The officer returned the following day and found the stream below the discharge ditch was coated in a white powdery sediment. There was an odour of sour milk. Numerous colonies of blood worms, a sign of gross pollution, were present in the stream.

A number of dead brown trout and bullhead were recovered from the stream. Most measured up to 8 inches, but the casualties included a trout of 12 inches. Several were found washed up against a trash dam near the confluence of the Dipple Water and River Torridge

Samples of stream water taken near the farm contained depleted levels of dissolved oxygen.
Agency officers introduced liquid Hydrogen Peroxide to the stream in a bid to restore oxygen levels.

An investigation revealed a member of staff, unfamiliar with the farm's waste treatment plant, had accidentally switched on a valve and left it on causing a storage tank to overflow.

'More than two kilometres of an important tributary of the River Torridge were polluted as a result of this incident that was one of the worst we've seen for some time. Milk waste can be very harmful when it enters rivers and streams because it strips the water of oxygen causing fish to suffocate. While we managed to recover more than 70 dead trout and coarse fish, the total number killed would have been considerably higher,' said Andrew Leyman for the Environment Agency.

Parkham Farms Limited, of St John's House, Castle Street, Taunton, was today fined £6,700 and ordered to pay £2,583 costs by Barnstaple magistrates after pleading guilty to on or before June 29, 2008 causing polluting matter, namely milk washings, to enter controlled waters contrary to Section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

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