The Angling Trust's legal arm Fish Legal has kicked off the New Year with a £19,632 settlement for one of its member clubs - the Derwent Angling Association - whose fishing in the upper reaches of the River Derwent in Northumberland and County Durham was wiped out in February 2009 when sodium hydroxide escaped from a bank-side water treatment works operated by Northumbrian Water Ltd.
Sodium hydroxide (commonly known as caustic soda) is used as a chemical base in many industrial processes, but is also used domestically to strip paint and clear drains. Exposure to it can quite literally 'burn' fish tissue.
The pollution occurred when a delivery of the chemical was pumped into a damaged plastic storage tank at the Mosside Water Treatment Works from which an estimated 3,200 litres escaped whilst the tank was being filled. The bunding around the tank which is a first line of defence in the event of a spill, had a loose cover on its man-hatch that not been replaced properly following maintenance work in January 2009. Incredibly, the chemical was stored next to a surface water drain, down which it promptly flowed straight into a tributary of the Derwent, raising the pH of the river to lethal levels and killing thousands of fish.
Fish Legal claimed for a loss of amenity when the club's resident wild brown trout and grayling populations were decimated over a 13 km stretch between Ebchester and Blackhall Mill, near Consett, to the northwest of Durham. In addition to the financial settlement, a further programme to restock the river with grayling and trout has also been successfully negotiated.
William Rundle, Fish Legal Solicitor, said:
"Negotiating this settlement was difficult at times because Northumbrian Water was reluctant to agree a reasonable amount for the ecological devastation they brought to the Derwent. This was particularly hard to stomach given the extreme carelessness that was the root cause, but we were determined not to let them off the hook.
We are relatively pleased that following protracted discussions the utility took full responsibility and agreed to a sum that better represents the cost of restoring the river. Whilst never truly compensating for the damage to the environment, it will help Derwent Angling Association enhance the river for future years, and go some way to making good the distress caused.
The overall bill footed by Northumbrian Water for polluting the Derwent - which includes legal fees and EA fines - is likely to be in excess of £38,500. £28,132 of this bill was recovered by Fish Legal - well over twice that which the EA secured in fines and costs during their prosecution. This demonstrates the invaluable role of our work in punishing and deterring polluters."
Alan Farbridge, Secretary of the Derwent AA explained how the club intend to use the settlement money:
"We're going to ring-fence the compensation Fish Legal has won for us to do habitat work when the weather warms up. We're hoping to train up one of our members to use a chainsaw to cut-back some of the overhanging trees which shade the river in the damaged stretch. We also plan to do some fencing to protect the banks. The area that was polluted used to offer some beautiful fly fishing and although we don't expect the river to fully recover for about 4 or 5 years we're going to do all we can to make sure it's in the best possible condition when it does."
"Fish Legal was absolutely fantastic throughout. They kept us motivated even though at some points the struggle seemed pretty hopeless. We wouldn't have this money without them".