Farm pollution causes most of the fish kills in Northern Ireland’s waterways, according to the latest figures released by a Government watchdog.
Agricultural spills were responsible for some 46.7% of all fish kills, while 13.3% could be attributed to Water Service and another 13.3% to industry, the report by Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) revealed.
The figures from 2007, the latest available, also show that 20% of pollution sources causing fish kills were classed as ‘other’ and transport accounted for 6.7% of fish kills, according to the Water Pollution Incidents and Enforcement 2007 report.
South Antrim MLA Thomas Burns called for the law to be changed if necessary so that larger fines and jail terms can be imposed on serious polluters.
Meanwhile, anglers along the Sixmilewater River, which has been affected by a number of serious fish kills, criticised the Government for not doing more to support farmers in their efforts to protect waterways.
Speaking on behalf of the Six Mile Water Trust and Antrim and District Anglers, Michael Martin called for more resources for farmers, NIEA and the Department of Agriculture to protect the environment.
“We believe that the Government will have to consider the implications of the Water Framework Directive which will be coming into force in the next few years,” he said.
“An example is a farmer living within a river catchment who wants to look after the environment and purchasing a tank which injects slurry into the ground. The price of this purchase may be £25,000 against the price of an ordinary device at less than half that sum.
“We feel farmers should not be disadvantaged in this way — the Government should be supporting the industry in environmentally sensitive areas such as river catchments on a farm-by-farm basis.
“These people have the decency and goodwill to allow anglers and others to have access to their ground and they deserve to be treated with respect. It is time for the Government to take stock of the natural environment and the needs of those farming environmentally sensitive areas.
“Our new Environment Minister Edwin Poots should recognise these issues, coming from a farming background as he does. It would appear that NIEA, DARD and the farmers on the ground need more resources to look after Northern Ireland’s environmental heritage.”
While agriculture was responsible for most fish kills, Northern Ireland Water was named as the source in the greatest number of pollution incidents — 364 (28%) of a total 1,292. Agriculture was cited as the source for 285 (22%) incidents, industry for 246 (19%) incidents, domestic or 197 (15%), ‘other’ for 175 (14%) and transport for 25(2%).
Of these, 1,066 incidents were classified as low severity, 204 were medium severity and 22 were high severity.
Equipment failure was cited in 274 cases (21%), poor working practice in 200 (15%), accident or emergency in 158 (12%), inadequate equipment in 138 (11%).
Negligence was cited in 91 cases (7%), weather in 54 (4%) and deliberate dumping in 62 cases (5%). Between 2001 and 2007 the number of pollution incidents caused by agriculture and industry dropped but those caused by Northern Water or its predecessor showed no overall change.
By March 2009, NIEA had issued 145 warning letters and submitted 46 cases to the PPS recommending prosecution. Of these, 34 cases have resulted in convictions and 12 are pending.
For the incidents that took place in 2006, 47 cases were submitted to the PPS recommending prosecution. So far, 29 have been heard in the magistrates courts, with 96.6% resulting in convictions, attracting total fines of £66,600.