River Coly pollution prompts correspondent to offer ideas and discuss a fair deal for farmers

On River Pollution

A correspondent notes draft Welsh regulations contain several policy ideas on slurry including

– 14 days notice before construction begins on a new or improved slurry or silage store

– Sufficient sufficient storage for all slurry produced on the holding for the regulatory storage period

– Maintenance of a “Risk Map” showing all the fields, all surface waters, boreholes etc, areas with shallow or sandy soils, land with an incline of greater than 12⁰ , land drains, and sites of temporary field heaps (TFH) (if used)

See these two references: draft Welsh proposals here and a short blog discussion here.

The correspondent noted that there’s a public consultation on Reforming Regulation : deadline of 11 June 2020 where such ideas can be submitted by organisations or members of the public.


Giving Farmers a fair deal

The correspondent goes on to say that if farmers are going to incur regulatory costs we need to support them in making a decent income. Britain needs a proper national food strategy that supports smaller traders, local economies, community benefits and sustainable practices and supports farm gate prices through a Groceries Code Adjudicator, cooperatives like the Milk Marketing Board, and invests in and promotes skills, technology, market access and innovation as part of a long term plan. All rural-proofed. 

The current agriculture bill supports landowning, not farming. The Tories voted down amendments to protect prices and standards in British farming.

(Tory MP Neil Parish’s amendment to ensure agriculture imports adhere to UK animal health and welfare, environment and environmental standards was rejected by 328 votes to 277, majority 51 in an electronic vote last night. The move against Parish’s amendment will once again raise fears that the UK could water down its standards as it strikes post-Brexit free trade deals.)


Infection passed on twice as often in the northeast

“The coronavirus infection rate is twice as big in the northeast and Yorkshire as in London, figures suggest.”

But the quoted figures show the South West is almost as bad – stay alert, spot the small print  – Owl

(And all the decisions are made in London of course)

Kat Lay, Health Correspondent | Charlotte Wace | Francis Elliott www.thetimes.co.uk 

Every ten people infected in the capital will pass the virus on to only four others. In the northeast and Yorkshire, ten people will pass it on to eight others.

In both cases the R rate — which measures how many people, on average, each infected person will pass the virus on to — is below one, at 0.4 and 0.8 respectively. An R rate of less than one means that the virus will eventually die out.

The figures come from a joint Public Health England (PHE) and University of Cambridge modelling group. Their estimates form the basis of forecasts used by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) and regional PHE teams.

The report suggests that R in eastern England is 0.71, in the Midlands 0.68, in the northwest 0.73, in the southeast 0.71 and in the southwest 0.76. R for the whole of England is about 0.75.

Paul Birrell of the MRC biostatistics unit at Cambridge, who leads the modelling group, told BBC Radio 4’s More or Less that the lower rate in London could be because more residents had been infected. He said: “Currently, the belief of the group in which I work is that London has seen sufficient infection that the very sharp drop we have seen in the number of deaths in London is to some degree attributable to a drop in the pool of susceptible individuals.”

The Office for National Statistics is set to publish the first results from a survey to determine the true infection rate in England today.

The mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool have called on the government to publish official calculations of the R rate at a regional and sub-regional level. More people are in hospital in the northwest with Covid-19 than anywhere else in Britain.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “If we are at greater risk, we need to know what the risk is and make adjustments accordingly. If it’s not safe anywhere, it’s not safe everywhere. If you see a spike of cases in any region, it would quickly pass back from the northwest to the Midlands and back to London. I’m constantly arguing for a national approach to this, but I think we will be able to manage the situation better with the regional breakdown of information.”

Sir Ian Diamond, national statistician, told MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee that “we need to be worried as a nation” about the seeds for a sharp increase in cases being sown as the lockdown is lifted. He said that there had been a reduction in deaths in the community, care homes and hospitals “but not as speedy as we would like”.

He said that a national approach might be replaced with “much more localised strategies” to stop a second peak, adding: “We need therefore to be able to have the data to enable the policy to be made.”

Asked whether he envisioned individual cities having different approaches, he suggested that it could be specific to only one school.

Properly tracking the course of the pandemic, he said, would mean relying on “community spirit” to encourage people to promptly report symptoms.


Polluted River Coly ‘could take two years to recover’

At least 400 fish died in last week’s major river pollution incident near Colyton, officials have confirmed. [photo of frothing river in online article]

Colyton district councillor Paul Arnott has said no one should go into the river Coly at the moment – including pets.

Chris Carson  www.midweekherald.co.uk

Around 100,000 litres of slurry escaped from a farm storage tank and entered the Southleigh Stream, a tributary of the River Coly and River Axe.

Environment Agency officers were called to the scene and have been investigating the extent of the damage.

A spokesman told The Midweek Herald: “We have surveyed the fish and invertebrates in Southleigh Stream and the River Coly and are now comparing the results to previous monitoring data to assess what the impact is.

“At least 400 fish have been killed, but the actual figure is likely to be higher.”

Writing on social media he said: “The Environment Agency has confirmed today that long stretches of the river are still part of an ongoing Category One pollution incident.

“This is especially bad in the stretch as far as Umborne Bridge, but beyond that down past the playing fields, too.

“Their prediction is that it will be two years before the river will be cleared and before that it will be unsustainable for migrating fish.

“The river is contaminated with pathogens and algae growth you would not want your kids or pets to be splashing about in.

“It may look clear in sections, but these elements are still present.

“It’s a genuine risk to public health.

“It is now down to East Devon District Council to arrange suitable advisory signs to that effect which will be done as soon as possible.

“Luckily the tidal flow when it gets to the Axe will clear that away reasonably soon, and there is unlikely to be an effect as I understand it on the Colyford and Seaton Wetlands.”


New Nightingale: is this the economic consequence of Madness? Asks correspondent.

One of Owl’s correspondents has taken the message “Stay Alert” to heart.

“To support the maximum number of beds (120), 450 NHS clinical staff from across the region would work at the hospital.” (From recent post)

The correspondent asks:

Is this the economics of madness?  How many hospital beds have been axed at community hospitals?  How much will it cost to build/maintain a temporary facility which may / may not be required?

And points to the debate over community hospital beds closures conducted in 2018 . When Devon County Council said closure-threatened community hospitals in Devon should be used as health and wellbeing centres for local people – but only ‘where appropriate. ( After more than an hours debate, Conservatives refused to delete the weasel words: “where appropriate” as proposed by Independents, including Councillors Martin Shaw and Claire Wright)

‘Hospitals in Dartmouth, Bovey Tracey, Ashburton and Paignton have all closed in the past two years, while closure of inpatient beds at Exeter, Seaton, Honiton and Okehampton hospitals took place last year and Teignmouth hospital is under threat from closure.’

And as Claire Wright pointed out in the debate:

‘’Around 200 beds have gone since 2012 and there are around five hospitals in the county in the process of being closed. People view it as selling off the family silver are the Beeching cuts but for hospital buildings.’ 

How prophetic!


Ministers were warned two years ago of care homes’ exposure to pandemics

In answering Keir Starmer’s questions on the guidance given over care homes, Owl heard Boris Johnson say that lockdown was brought in for them earlier than for the general population – didn’t stop the closure of Shandford. 

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Ministers faced fresh allegations on Wednesday of failing to prepare care homes for a pandemic, as it emerged that Covid-19 may have killed 22,000 residents in England and Wales – more than twice the official toll.

Council social care directors in England warned the government two years ago, in a series of detailed reports, about care homes’ exposure to a pandemic, the Guardian has learned.

They called for better supply plans for personal protective equipment – warning that “demand for PPE could rapidly outstrip supply” – plus improved infection control and a system to enlist volunteers to help services expected to be stretched to breaking point.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), which represents directors of adult social services in England, told the Guardian it carried out the work to improve government planning for a flu pandemic at the request of the Department of Health and Social Care. But it said: “We are not aware of whether government departments picked up on any of the recommendations set out.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “As the public would expect, we regularly test our pandemic plans – allowing us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented crisis. Our planning helped prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and means we are past the peak of the virus.”

The fresh allegations come as Boris Johnson was accused of downplaying the threat to care homes as recently as March, while a study from the London School of Economics (LSE) put the death toll for care home residents in England and Wales at 22,000, more than double the official estimate.

On a day of rising pressure over the failure better to protect the elderly and vulnerable against the coronavirus outbreak, Keir Starmer used prime minister’s questions to ask why Public Health England (PHE) had advised in March that care home residents were “very unlikely” to become infected by Covid-19. This was PHE’s position as the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and people were already dying in the UK.

The Labour leader said the government had been “too slow to protect people in care homes”, and Johnson was forced to admit that “the number of casualties has been too high” in the sector.

Stamer said the final coronavirus death toll, currently standing at just over 40,000 in the UK, including care homes, hospitals and private homes, would be “deeply horrifying”.

The advice on the “unlikely” threat posed by Covid-19 to care homes was changed on 13 March and Downing Street said it was drawn up at a time when there were no infections in the UK. But the clash highlighted growing anger over the attention and resourcing given to preparing care homes as ministers focused on preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed.

In a sign of shifting priorities, the government announced a £600m cash injection for care homes to help control infection.

The report prepared by Adass for the government in 2018 followed a government pandemic planning exercise known as Cygnus, which uncovered the need to boost the capacity of care homes and staff numbers.

 Starmer confronts PM on care home deaths, missing data and lack of testing – video highlights

They stated that frontline care workers would need advice on “controlling cross-infection” and called for a system for mustering volunteers from families, charities and the community to help overwhelmed homes. They also called for new guidance on increasing stocks of PPE, with a prescient warning that “demand for PPE could rapidly outstrip supply”.

Care operators have struggled to limit cross-infection, with outbreaks killing more than two dozen residents in some facilities in the space of a few weeks. Staff absences have been running at 10% to 20% and early in the crisis the care industry complained that it was not covered by the government’s NHS volunteering scheme.

A survey of more than 100 care homes published on Wednesday by the Alzheimer’s Society found 43% were still not confident of their PPE supply, with one home resorting to taping bags around carers’ arms, feet and hair. Some 58% of homes said they were unable to isolate residents, and one-third said they had taken in Covid-positive patients discharged from hospital.

The latest assessment of fatalities in care settings by LSE academics found that more than half of all “excess deaths” in England and Wales – those above the five-year average for the period from 28 December to 1 May – happened in care homes. They said that from 13 March to 1 May, care homes accounted for 19,938 excess deaths.

Only 8,310 of those were specifically linked to Covid-19 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), reflecting the declarations of care homes rather than on death certificates.

The researchers added that deaths of care home residents in hospitals were not currently represented in the ONS figures, and that around 15% of deaths of care home residents happened in hospitals , bringing the total to more than 22,000.

The report authors, Adelina Comas-Herrera and José-Luis Fernández, have been tracking virus death tolls in care homes globally since the start of the pandemic. They cited concerns raised internationally about deaths being linked to the residents being isolated in their rooms, without adequate food, drink or medical support, and not to the virus itself.

The ONS appeared to support their estimate, saying its data showed just under 20,000 excess deaths registered up to 1 May in care homes since the pandemic started.

“Of those, 8,312 have had Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate,” a spokesman said. “We are undertaking further analysis on all deaths of care home residents which will be published in the coming days.”

On Wednesday, Downing Street confirmed that the international comparison of death rates by country had been dropped from the slide at the daily press conference, but denied that it was because of embarrassment that the UK is now shown as having the second worst toll after the US.


Coronavirus: real care home death toll double official figure, study says

More than 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales may have died as a direct or indirect result of Covid-19, academics have calculated – more than double the number stated as passing away from the disease in official figures.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Academics at the London School of Economics found that data on deaths in care homes directly attributed to the virus published by the Office for National Statistics significantly underestimated the impact of the pandemic on care home residents and accounted for only about four out of 10 of the excess deaths in care settings recorded in recent weeks in England and Wales.

ONS statisticians said on Tuesday that 8,314 people had died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in English care homes up to 8 May.

The figures suggest the impact of the virus in care homes is finally reducing. They are based on reports filed directly from care home operators to the regulator, the Care Quality Commission. Care Inspectorate Wales has said Covid was confirmed or suspected in a further 504 cases in homes up to the 8 May in Wales.

But academics at the care policy and evaluation centre at the LSE found that when excess deaths of other care residents and the deaths of care home residents from Covid-19 in hospitals are taken into account, the toll that can be directly and indirectly linked to the virus pandemic is likely to be more than double the current official count.

They said these additional fatalities may have been caused by residents who did not seek or receive medical care for other health conditions for fear of contracting Covid-19 or over-burdening the NHS as well a lack of access to normal care.

Care homes have been running at 10% to 20% staff absence rates and many homes have been trying to isolate residents in their rooms to reduce infection spread, but this can also make their normal care more difficult and residents’ needs less visible.

The academics, who have been tracking virus death tolls in care homes globally since the start of the pandemic, cited concerns raised internationally about deaths being linked to the consequences of residents being isolated in their rooms, without adequate eating, drinking or medical support, and not to the virus itself.

They said that from 13 March to 1 May, there were 19,938 “excess deaths” in care homes – that is above the average number of deaths for the same weeks in the previous five years. Only 8,310 of these were specifically linked to Covid-19 by the ONS – reflecting the declarations of care homes, rather than on death certificates. The researchers added that deaths of care home residents in hospitals are not currently accounted for in the ONS figures and that around 15% of deaths of care home residents happen in hospitals, and that this figure could even be higher.

“Data on deaths in care homes directly attributed to Covid-19 underestimate the impact of the pandemic on care home residents, as they do not take account of indirect mortality effects of the pandemic and/or because of problems with the identification of the disease as the cause of death,” said the report authors, Adelina Comas-Herrera and Jose-Luis Fernandez.

“Data on registered Covid-19 deaths in care homes in England and Wales only accounts for an estimated 41.6% of all excess deaths in care homes. Not all care home residents die in care homes … Calculating total excess mortality in care homes since 28 December and adjusting this by the assumption that 15% of care home residents die in hospital, suggests that by 1 May there had been in excess of 22,000 deaths of care home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic – 54% of all excess mortality – in England and Wales.”

Asked to comment on the estimates, a spokesperson for the ONS said: “ONS is undertaking further analysis on all deaths of care home residents which will be published in the coming days.”

The figures came as the Alzheimer’s Society said care homes have been “left to fend for themselves” amid continuing shortage of personal protective equipment and testing for residents and difficulties isolating infected residents.

It said that of more than 100 homes surveyed last week, 43% were still not confident of their PPE supply, with one home resorting to taping bags around carers’ arms, feet and hair. Fifty-eight percent of homes said they were unable to isolate residents and a third said they have taken in Covid-19 positive patients discharged from hospital.


Crowds return to beauty spots in England as coronavirus lockdown eases

Beaches, country parks and beauty spots across England were busy on Wednesday as people were allowed to drive as far as they wished to exercise for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was initiated, with police saying it may become more difficult to enforce the new regulations.

Helen Pidd www.theguardian.com 

Despite pleas from local authorities, public health chiefs and even tourist bosses for people to stay away from visitor hotspots, routes to coastlines and countryside were congested.

While slightly chilly conditions may have kept the beaches of south-west England from becoming too crowded, it was clear that many people were drawn back to their favourite spots.

Julian German, leader of Cornwall council, said that as far as he was concerned, the county remained shut to visitors. He expressed concern over the lack of clarity from the UK government. He said: “I find it amazing that the government is telling people they cannot see their close family members due to the risk of spreading the virus, but is also telling them they are fine to drive hundreds of miles for a day out.”

The council said it received about 30 calls a day from people complaining that second home owners had sneaked to their boltholes in Cornwall. German said it would be almost impossible for police to stop people from coming to their holiday retreats because they could simply say they were travelling to do exercise.

People were also heading back into the water. Padstow Harbour in north Cornwall posted a “notice to mariners” allowing kayakers, windsurfers, kite- and paddle-boarders and dinghy sailors to use the estuary for “the purpose of exercise”.

The RNLI said none of its lifeguards were working on beaches in the UK and called for people to think carefully before going into or near the water.

On the Norfolk Broads, one man was rescued after he capsized in gusty conditions. An ambulance, five fire engines and the coastguard were called to the scene at about 11am on Wednesday.

Ben Falat, chairman of the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association, who made the 999 call after he saw the man in the water, said: “His boat was barely seaworthy. He didn’t do a good enough risk assessment for going sailing at any time, let alone in these times.”

In north Devon, the popular surfing locations of Woolacombe and Mortehoe asked people to stay away. “We do not have the capacity to cope if there is an outbreak in either of the villages,” a notice on the Mortehoe parish website read. But metal detectorists, hikers and kayakers were spotted.

Wiltshire police expressed concern at plans that appeared on social media advertising a gathering at a country park in Swindon. A police spokesperson said: “Calling for a mass gathering is a flagrant breach of the regulations and the guidance on social distancing and is wholly irresponsible.”

The tourism body for Blackpool has rebranded itself as Do Not Visit Blackpool in an attempt to discourage visitors. Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool council, said the government’s new message meant there was nothing that could be done to stop visitors, but he urged people to stay away for now.

Tory MP Robert Goodwill said the North Yorkshire seaside towns of Whitby and Scarborough feared a deluge of visitors. He said: “I would remind people that the toilets are closed, the car parks are closed. Whitby and Scarborough are not accepting visitors at this time.”

Celia Barnes, who lives in Skegness, Lincolnshire, said she had been shielding for nine weeks and had not left her home – yet now tourists were being allowed to visit her town. She said: “How is it fair that we will be inundated with people flocking to the beach who might have the virus?”

New rules permitting day trips to outdoor open spaces in England came into force on Wednesday, with no limit on the distance allowed. The full “stay at home” lockdown restrictions remain in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The changes in certain lockdown rules come as police officers were told they could not enforce social distancing in England, while officers in Wales have been told they can. The College of Policing and police chiefs issued new guidance trying to explain the more complicated rules to 125,000 officers in England and Wales.

It tells officers to apply legal guidelines only and not what they may have heard from politicians. It says: “Government guidance is not enforceable, for example, two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport, or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces.”

In Wales it says, two-metre distancing is enforceable, and exercise is allowed only in an “area local to the place where the person is living”.

It emerged that Greater Manchester police were called to more than 1,000 house parties and large gatherings over the Bank Holiday weekend. Bev Hughes, the deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, said the “subliminal message [from the government] is that you can go out as much as you like”.

Ian Hopkins said the new regulations made policing more complex. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police said: “We’ve gone from what was a relatively strong message with some fairly clear legislation into something that’s now more fluid. People have more leeway around what they can and can’t do.”

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, said: “Police still have a role where people are gathering in groups with those not in their household or if they’ve left their house for one of the reasons not designated as a reasonable excuse.

“We will use common sense and discretion to determine what’s reasonable. Officers will engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce.”

Simon Fell, the Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness in Cumbria, said the Lake District could be closed if the infection rate increased. “We need to keep a really, really close eye on the R number, and if we see it go up, turn on the restrictions straight away,” he said.

In Bournemouth, where beach hut owners were allowed back for the first time, Rob Underhill, 67, was among the first to return. “It is wonderful to be back here and to be able to look out at the sea,” he said.


Work to build an NHS Nightingale hospital in Devon is now officially underway.

Nightingale Exeter, at the former Homebase store in Moor Lane, will provide a regional resource for Devon, Cornwall and neighbouring counties supporting the existing hospital network.

Daniel Wilkins www.midweekherald.co.uk

Work to transform the former retail unit began on Wednesday, May 6. It is expected to be completed by the middle/end of June.

NHS leaders in Devon say that they hope that Nightingale Exeter will not be needed but if or when it is, it will be ready.

As well as treating the sickest patients, Nightingale Exeter could also be used for those patients with less severe problems associated with Covid-19 – and for those who are recovering after a period in hospital.

To support the maximum number of beds (120), 450 NHS clinical staff from across the region would work at the hospital.

Until they are required, staff will remain on standby – at their existing hospitals or workplaces.

Once the hospital has opened, it will be operated by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust on behalf of all the hospitals in Devon and Cornwall.

Rob Dyer, medical director of the Nightingale hospital, said: “We have brought together a strong team to deliver this latest addition to the NHS Nightingale hospital family.

“In many ways the outlook is better than it was because of the amazing response to ‘lock-down’ in the Southwest.

“The Nightingale Hospital Exeter has been designed to be flexible to support the recovery of our hospitals after a period where we have not been able to provide ‘usual services’.”

Philippa Slinger, the NHS chief executive leading the development of the hospital in Exeter, added: “Getting the new hospital open this quickly is a huge task but all involved are working hard to get it completed.

“We remain determined to ensure it is built so that it can be used for patients whether they are very sick or if they need less intensive care – including early rehabilitation after they have been unwell.

“The partnership between the NHS, partner agencies, the military and contractors so far has been second to none and I thank everyone involved.”

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Midweek Herald. Click the link in the yellow box below for details.