Southern Water faces private prosecution for polluting iconic chalk stream

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photograph by Brandon Green

Environmental organisation Fish Legal last week served summons on the water company at its head office in Worthing. The charges relate to pollution entering the Test from an outfall operated by Southern Water at Nursling Industrial Estate near Southampton.

The world-renowned River Test is a rare chalk stream habitat, one of only around 200 such rivers in the world. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest supporting Atlantic salmon, otters, water voles, brook lamprey, and bullhead but less than 18% of it is in ‘favourable’ condition. The section between Romsey and the estuary, the focus of the criminal case, is currently classified as ‘unfavourable’ due to polluting discharges.

Pollution has been entering the Test from Nursling Industrial Estate for decades without any effective enforcement action being taken by the Environment Agency. In March this year, Fish Legal made the regulator aware that it was stepping in to take its own private prosecution against Southern Water following diesel pollution in 2021 and 2022.

George Graham, chair of Fish Legal, said: “After years without effective action by the Environment Agency, we have been forced to take a private prosecution to protect this precious chalk stream. Both the water company and regulator are fully aware of the persistent pollution coming from this outfall. We cannot stand by any longer and wait for them to act.”

He added: “Ordinarily we use the civil law to take legal action against polluters on behalf of our angler members. However, in this case, we have taken the unusual step of going through the criminal courts.”

Penelope Gane, head of practice at Fish Legal, commented: “Southern Water is bottom of the league for total pollution incidents in recently published Environment Agency environmental performance reports. In bringing this case, our aim is to stop Southern Water from polluting the River Test. It is that simple.”

To discuss the importance of chalk streams further, The Missing Salmon Alliance (MSA) invite the public to join them for an evening in conversation with key UK conservationists to talk about the situation facing the UK chalk streams and the species and biodiversity within these environments.

This online event aims to draw attention to the challenges our chalk streams, and the biodiversity within them, are facing and ensure that action is taken. Panellists will shed light on the work taking place in these environments from the practical work on rivers, to legal pursuits, scientific research being carried out, and the advocacy taking place for governmental, regulatory, and policy change.

With speakers including Stuart Singleton-White, Dylan Roberts, Penny Gane, and more to be announced, the free online event will take place on Tuesday 8th August 2023 from 6pm-7pm. Guests will hear from each speaker before being invited to take part in a short Q&A session.

Chalk streams are among the most biodiverse of the UK’s rivers. 85% of the world’s chalk streams are found in England, from Dorset across the Southeast, East, and up to Yorkshire and they represent one of the UK’s most important contributions to global biodiversity. These clear-watered streams are a valuable habitat for Atlantic salmon as well as sea trout, grayling and lamprey, for otters, water voles, and kingfishers, for rare invertebrates such as the winterbourne stonefly, and plants like stream water crowfoot.

The Missing Salmon Alliance are advocating for the protection of salmon within freshwater, marine and coastal environments, and for the improvement of water quality, quantity, and improved habitats to reduce losses of the species, many of them unique to chalk streams. The Missing Salmon Alliance is working at every level on our iconic chalk streams.

Dylan Roberts, head of fisheries at MSA member, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, who run a Salmon and Trout Research Centre of the banks of the River Frome chalk stream in Dorset said: “We are now seeing first-hand the damage the changing climate is doing to iconic fish like the Atlantic salmon. In 2021 we published a scientific paper investigating the causes of a crash in the numbers of juvenile salmon in the River Frome in 2016. We concluded that it was the high winter water temperatures and dry cool spring. These problems are exacerbated in light of the huge pressures we are now putting on chalk streams. Urgent action is needed to ensure chalk streams are recognised and protected as the rare and precious habitats they are.”

The CaBa Chalk Stream Restoration Group launched its first Chalk Stream Strategy in 2021, calling for chalk streams in England to be given enhanced environmental status. The strategy was built around the ‘trinity of ecological health’: water quantity, water quality and habitat quality and included 30+ action recommendations to Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the water companies, NGOs and stakeholders, to rescue our globally important chalk streams and restore them to a near natural state.

The MSA recognise that if delivered appropriately, the principles set out in the 2021 Chalkstream Strategy will see a positive effect, but they are urging those involved to keep the pressure on and not allow either the regulators or the water companies to row back on their commitments.

To sign up to the online event, click here.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here


Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photograph by Brandon Green

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