Penrith Angling Association has won a legal settlement of £7,500 following action over a pollution incident on Skitwath Beck, near Penruddock, more than five years ago.
The tributary of the River Eamont was polluted on 8th September, 2015, as a result of an illegal discharge of slurry from Whitbarrow Farm — a dairy unit — which was probably caused by a jammed sluice gate on a storage container.
The spill resulted in a major fish mortality over a 4.3km section of the beck, with the Environment Agency classing it as a category one fish kill — reserved for the most severe pollution incidents indicative of a persistent and extensive effect on water quality and a major impact on the aquatic ecosystem.
The exact quantity of slurry that entered the watercourse is unknown, but an estimated 5,000 gallons of slurry was lost from the farm.
Some of it entered the beck via a sinkhole at the nearby Whitbarrow Holiday Village, as identified by dye testing carried out by Environment Agency officers.
The Environment Agency attempted to limit the impact on the beck by deploying hydrogen peroxide, but with limited success.
The farm owners were prosecuted by the Environment Agency and pleaded guilty to pollution offences at Carlisle Magistrates’ Court in 2017, when they were fined £1,600 and ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.
However, the matter was pursued further by Penrith Angling Association, which holds fishing rights downstream of Skitwath Beck on Dacre Beck and the River Eamont.
Although the association did not suffer a direct fish kill on their fishery, the Environment Agency describes Skitwath Beck as “an important brown trout and salmon spawning stream, as illustrated by the numbers of dead juvenile trout and salmon that were recovered from it”.
Representing the association was Fish Legal — a not for profit membership body which promotes the conservation and sustainable management of UK rivers and other waters — which pursued a civil claim against the dairy farmers.
This action was separate to the Environment Agency’s prosecution and sought compensation for the impact the pollution had on the angling association’s downstream fisheries and fishing amenity.
Fish Legal instructed a fisheries expert to assess the consequential losses of the fish kill in the Skitwath Beck on the club’s fisheries for the remainder of 2015 and in subsequent years.
The expert found that 2,028 takeable trout were lost to the club waters as a direct result of the pollution.
The claim has now been settled, with Penrith Angling Association set to receive £7,500.
The association’s committee is deciding how it will invest the compensation, saying it will be spent on either habitat work by the association or donated to organisations working on behalf of fisheries and/or habitat work — or split between both.