Hundreds of fish killed in major pollution incident in East Devon

Hundreds of fish have died after a major pollution incident on an East Devon river at the weekend.

Ten kilometres of river were affected after 100,000 litres of slurry poured into Southleigh Stream near Colyton.

Keith Rossiter  www.devonlive.com

The stream is a tributary of the River Coly, which in turn feeds into the River Axe southeast of the town.

The Environment Agency said it stepped in to investigate after a local farmer reported the loss of 100,000 litres of slurry from a storage tank. The agency said a number of fish had died, and officers were carrying out a fish kill assessment on the River Coly.

An East Devon news website said the farmer dug a ditch to reduce the flow to the stream after he was made aware of the incident, which is understood to have happened on Friday.

Most of the slurry reached the watercourse which was heavily discoloured when officers arrived on site on Sunday, making it difficult to assess the impact of the pollution, the Midweek Herald said.

“The Umborne Brook joins the River Coly at Colyton which will help dilute any pollution,” the Environment Agency told the news site.

“Officers have returned today to carry out a fish kill assessment and consider any further remedial measures.”

The Environment Agency said that it is investigating how slurry entered Southleigh Stream from a large store in the area.

“Our officers have recovered more than 400 dead fish, including brown trout, salmon fry, bullheads, stone loach, minnows and lamprey, and are now looking at the impact on the watercourse’s invertebrates.

“Any future action will be informed by the outcome of our investigation.

East Devon councillor Paul Arnott, who represents Coly Valley, told the Western Morning News yesterday that he understood hundreds of fish had died.

“The ecological impact on the River Coly is a disaster. It’s not just fish but birds and all sorts of other flora and fauna.

“I walk the river with my wife and daughters and appreciate what a beautiful thing it is and how crystal clear the water is.

“But if you go there now, you can’t see the river bed. The water is brown. It’s a tragedy.

“We will be looking for good, strong action from the Environment Agency.”

Ed Parr Ferris, Devon Wildlife Trust conservation manager, said:

“This incident has occurred on a section of river, the River Coly, already classed as in poor condition by the Environment Agency due primarily to agricultural pollution.

“The EA has been focusing attention on agricultural pollution on the River Axe, of which the River Coly is a tributary, due to the failing status of this important river. The Axe is recognised internationally as a Special Area of Conservation for its plants, invertebrates and populations of important fish – Atlantic salmon, bullhead, brook lamprey and sea lamprey.

“The estuary is also a Marine Conservation Zone.

“This is especially concerning as it’s the second major pollution incident on the river in two years which emphasises the need for stronger regulation, alongside advisory support for farming businesses to manage and protect our amazing river wildlife.

“Devon Wildlife Trust is working closely with the Environment Agency and other organisations to better protect and enhance the wildlife and environment in the Axe catchment.”