'Reckless' farmer polluted drinking water when manure dam burst and unleashed wave of foul slurry

A farmer polluted a private water supply, a stream and a wild-swimming pond on the Somerset border when an illegal 'dam of manure' burst and allowed a wave of foul slurry to escape over a wide area. Derek Dyer, 74, of Crawley Farm, Yarcombe near Honiton, polluted local drinking water spring and nearby residents were forced to use bottled water due to the high levels of dangerous contamination.

Dyer was handed 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 last Thursday.

He admitted 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 by the Environment Agency, it was revealed 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 wooded area where springs supply drinking water for several properties on the Chilworthy Estate experienced significant contamination. The Estate promptly provided bottled drinking water to all residents upon realising their water supply could be polluted.

Water samples later confirmed elevated levels of E. coli and total coliforms, disease-causing bacteria, above drinking water standards, and a wild swimming pond at a nearby glamping site was also found to be polluted with slurry.

In a statement submitted to the Environment Agency, Derek Dyer confessed that he and his son had used the rented field for storage as they lacked sufficient slurry storage. He also mentioned that an application for a new store had been delayed by the Local Planning Authority.

He expressed regret for the incident, believing the makeshift store would hold up the slurry until it could be spread, but claimed the heavy rain had caused it to collapse.

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

After the court proceedings, Dave Womack from the Environment Agency commented: "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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