ANIMAL waste and silage effluent from a farm have been discharging into a Northumberland river for the past 30 years, a court was told.
John Goodfellow, 63, yesterday pleaded guilty to polluting the North Tyne river at The Ridings Farm, near Bellingham, Northumberland, over a period that dates to the 1970s.
Magistrates at Tynedale Court were told that a combination of slurry from a cow shed and silage effluent from a purpose built drain had been discharged into the river via a marsh area.
Prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency Paul Harley said the pollution had severely affected a 1.2 kilometre stretch of the river.
He said: “The Agency view is that this was not the result of an accident but that it is a long term contamination of a waterway.
“People who know the area will be aware of the river’s reputation as one of the prime rivers in the country.
“The Agency takes a serious view of the matter. It is simply not acceptable to allow the river to get into that condition.”
The court heard how the waste had caused “sewage fungus” to grow in the river.
Mr Harley described that fungus as a “particularly unpleasant” side effect of the contamination and urged magistrates a to impose a stiff penalty because of the seriousness of the offence.
Defending himself Goodfellow, who gave his address as Longwitton Farm, Morpeth, pointed out that he had spent £6,000 on a new tank to help correct the system. He said: “I am quite disappointed that I have been brought here today because in my opinion it is a misdemeanour that is not on the scale that this justifies.
“I do care about the environment and we have completely revamped all our systems since the incident so that it will never happen again. We have done all that we possibly can, at great expense.”
The farmer also disputed the amount of water contaminated, suggesting that it was a 50 metre stretch, out of a total of 30 kilometres of river that ran through his farm.
Chairman of the bench Terry Broughton fined Goodfellow £1,500 and ordered him to pay costs of £1,800.
Speaking after the case Deborah Evans, environment officer at the Environment Agency said the pollution could have resulted in suffocation and death of sensitive wildlife on the stretch.
She added: “I am satisfied that we have been able to bring this matter to a successful prosecution.
“Farmers need to ensure that they have adequate facilities in place to ensure that silage and slurry is contained in accordance with the Agricultural Code of Practice.”