Environment Agency tells company to develop plans to restore river after worst river pollution incident ever recorded in Lincolnshire

Environment Agency fisheries experts restocking the River Witham at Chapel Hill where it joins the Kyme Eau, which links to the River Slea.
Environment Agency fisheries experts restocking the River Witham at Chapel Hill where it joins the Kyme Eau, which links to the River Slea.

The company responsible for a major pollution incident on the River Witham that killed at least 100,000 fish has promised to repair the damage done and restore the river.

The Environment Agency has issued agricultural and fertiliser company Omex Agriculture Limited, of Bardney Airfield, near Tupholme, with a ‘notice of liability’ under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2015.

The notice – only the second the Environment Agency has issued since the regulations came into place – requires the company to develop plans for repairing the environmental damage caused when ammonia entered the river in March this year.

The ammonia affected the river from Bardney to the Wash, severely impacting the condition of the river and its ecosystems. It’s thought to be the worst river pollution incident ever recorded in the county.

Manfai Tang, environment manager at the Environment Agency, said: "We know the pollution had a devastating effect on delicate river ecosystems, and issuing this notice means the process of helping the river recover to its natural, healthy state can start sooner.

"It’s one way we’re working to protect and improve our environment for local people and wildlife. We look forward to receiving proposals from Omex for review, and working with them to restore the Witham."

After the incident, Environment Agency experts and biologists worked with other organisations to clean up the pollution and mitigate the damage. Fisheries teams have since re-stocked the river with more than 1.5 million fish larvae, including common bream, roach and tench, plus re-introducing around 40,000 roach and common bream ranging from 30 to 40mm long.

The fish were re-stocked into the river at South Delph, Old River Witham, Catchwater Drain, Timberland Delph and Chapel Hill at the confluence with the Kyme Eau.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency is continuing to investigate the circumstances of the pollution. Further action will be considered once the investigation is complete.

Under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2015, a Notice of Liability allows the Environment Agency to require a polluter to take steps to remediate the damage done by a pollution incident.

Once the notice is served, the recipient has 28 days to lodge an appeal.

The polluter has until mid-January to submit their proposals. The Environment Agency must be satisfied the plan represents the best results for the environment.

This measure is taken separate to the ongoing investigation under the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

In a statement, OMEX Agriculture says it was concerned to discover the environmental impact on the River Witham following "an accidental fertiliser leak" earlier this year.

They say: "As soon as the incident was discovered the leak was stopped and repaired, and OMEX has since been working with the Environment Agency to restore the river, and has provided funding for consultant ecologists to manage the re-population of fish as quickly and sustainably as possible.

"OMEX takes safe storage very seriously – this is the first incident of its kind at the Bardney site in the 42 years of operations – and we are committed to the remedial work required and installing new measures to ensure that this incident cannot happen again."