The University of Cambridge has been ordered to pay fines totalling £28,000 and full costs of £7,363 after tributaries of the River Great Ouse were polluted twice last year.
The tributaries were polluted with slurry from Park Farm, Church Lane, Madingley, Cambridge, which is a farm owned and operated by the University of Cambridge.
At Cambridge Magistrates Court on Thursday 30 May, the University pleaded guilty to two offences of causing pollution on 10 May 2012 and again on the 10 June 2012. They were fined £12,000 for the first incident and £16,000 for the second incident.
Following a report of pollution, an Environment Agency officer traced the pollution on 10 May 2012 upstream to a field where slurry had recently been spread. Investigations revealed that slurry had entered the tributary via an unknown drainage pipe.
After a second report of pollution, an Environment Agency officer traced the pollution on 10 June 2012 upstream to another field where slurry had again recently been spread. The next day, following heavy overnight rain, the field was completely waterlogged.
Under similar circumstances to the first incident, unknown drainage pipes were found to be discharging slurry into field ditches connected to tributaries of the River Great Ouse.
Claire Corfield, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said: “This was not an isolated lapse, following the first incident the defendant failed to take appropriate measures such as tankering to prevent a second pollution incident. The causes of both incidents were the same.”
It was admitted in interview that the estimated post application rate of slurry applied was in excess of the recommended rates provided in the Code of Good Agricultural Practice guidance. The defendant also admitted that the soil moisture levels were misjudged.
An Environment Agency officer investigated a report of pollution at Dry Drayton Road Bridge near Madingley on 10 May 2012. The tributary of the Beck Brook was affected for up to 1.9 kilometres, and the officer saw evidence of discolouration and detected a manure smell.
He saw brown liquid discharging from a drainage pipe, this was bunged. A return visit five days later found that the pollution had cleared.
A second pollution took place on Park Farm on 10 June 2012. The Environment Officer traced the pollution upstream to another field where slurry had recently been spread and found a drainage pipe discharging slurry into a ditch to the Western edge of the field.
The following day, after heavy overnight rain, officers returned and found that the field was completely waterlogged. Slurry was escaping the field in multiple directions via unknown drainage pipes before entering field ditches leading to the Beck Brook and Callow Brook. The pollution had flowed approximately 7.3 kilometres downstream in the Beck Brook. In the May incident, there was an impact on water quality of the tributary of the Beck Brook for approximately 1.9 kilometres.
In the June incident, there was an impact on water quality of the tributary of the Beck Brook and the Beck Brook itself for approximately 6 kilometres. Water quality of the Callow Brook was also impacted for approximately 2 kilometres. Tests on 18 June showed an improvement in water quality.
Euan Simpson, a senior environment officer for the Environment Agency, said: “The case demonstrates the importance of following industry guidance to ensure that manures are spread safely and accurately to minimise risk to the environment.
“The Environment Agency are pleased that the university have taken steps to reduce the risk of incidents such as this occurring on their farm again.”
The university expressed deep regret for the incidents and entered early guilty pleas.
Christopher Hopkins, on behalf of the University of Cambridge, said that following the incidents the university has spent in excess of £4,500 on a new flow meter and on a remote emergency engine stop for the spreading system.
They have also spent in excess of £70,000 on slurry tankering. Both incidents followed misjudgments regarding expected rainfall and soil moisture levels.
Last year, Cambridgeshire received double the amount of usual annual rainfall.