Devon farmer polluted river with slurry after illegal manure dam burst

A Devon farmer has been forced to pay out thousands of pounds after pleading guilty to polluting a private water supply and a stream after a 'dam of manure' burst and allowed huge quantities of slurry to cascade over farmland. Derek Dyer, 74, from Crawley Farm, Yarcombe, near Honiton, contaminated the local drinking water spring, forcing nearby residents to resort to bottled water.

Dyer was given a community order of 60 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay total costs of £15,388.40 and a surcharge of £114 by District Judge Smith at Exeter magistrates on Thursday, May 9.

He pleaded guilty to one charge of causing pollution and two charges related to the construction of an illegal slurry store at a field off Greenway Lane, Clayhanger, Combe St Nicholas, near Chard.

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In a case brought forward by the Environment Agency, it was disclosed that officers visited the field in January 2023 following several reports of pollution in a tributary of the River Isle. The pollution was traced back to a large structure made from farmyard manure which had been built to store slurry.

Part of one of the walls had collapsed, resulting in the entire contents of the store spilling out and causing widespread contamination and damage. The slurry flowed across two fields and down the hillside into a wooded area.

The volume of slurry was such that it left behind a track up to 20m wide in places and the force was such that two wire fences were damaged. The tideline left on fence posts indicated a depth of 12 inches of slurry flowing into a wooded area over 400m from the store location.

The woodland area, which provides drinking water for several properties on the Chilworthy Estate, suffered significant contamination. Upon realising the potential pollution of their water supply, the Estate swiftly supplied bottled drinking water to all residents.

Subsequent water samples revealed elevated levels of E. coli and total coliforms exceeding drinking water standards. A wild swimming pond at a nearby glamping site was also discovered to be contaminated with slurry.

In a statement submitted to the Environment Agency, Derek Dyer admitted that he and his son had used the rented field for storage due to insufficient slurry storage. He also noted that an application for a new store had been delayed by the Local Planning Authority.

Dyer expressed regret over the incident, believing that the makeshift store would contain the slurry until it could be spread. However, he claimed that heavy rainfall caused its collapse.

District Judge Smith, in his summary, labelled the construction of a slurry store from farmyard manure as reckless. He concluded that Dyer, given his extensive experience, should have known better.

Following the court case, Dave Womack, of the Environment Agency remarked: "In over 30 years of regulating farms I have never seen such extensive contamination by slurry. Mr Dyer showed a flagrant disregard of the law. Regulations which prescribe how to construct slurry stores have been in place since 1991 and all farmers need to follow some basic requirements to prevent catastrophic events like this from happening.

"If farmers are concerned about the storage capacity of existing facilities, we would advise that they contact their local Environment Agency office and discuss proposals to ensure the environment is properly protected and valuable nutrient resources aren't wasted."

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