Tow Law farm with leaking slurry lagoon fined £24,000 after polluting stream

High Hedley Hope farm in Tow Law, County Durham has been fined £24,000 after polluting a stream Credit: Environment Agency

A County Durham farm business has been ordered to pay £24,000 in fines and court costs after polluting a stream.

High Hedley Hope farm, just outside Tow Law, County Durham, and along with manager Cyrus Armstrong pleaded guilty to several offences, including the illegal spillage of digestate, non-compliance with regulations around slurry storage and pollution caused by a leaking slurry lagoon.

Armstrong appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrate's Court on Monday 19 June. He was fined £3,500 and the company, High Hedley Hope Farm Ltd, was also fined £15,500. They were each ordered to pay £2,655 in court costs.

High Hedley Hope farm and its manager pleaded guilty to the illegal spillage of digestate, slurry storage and a leaking slurry lagoon. Credit: Environment Agency

Neil Paisley, agriculture team leader at the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “With land spreading of fertilisers in full swing this court case is a timely reminder for operators to ensure they follow the correct procedures to spread safely and in the correct place in accordance with their environmental permits.

“Spreading waste to land is an alternative source to traditional fertilisers. We have permits in place to protect the environment from these activities and will take action against anyone who flouts the law. In this case it has proven costly for the operators.”

Digestate, often used as a fertiliser, is a by-product of the anaerobic digestion process where bacteria break down organic matter, such as manure, wastewater or food waste.

High Hedley Hope anaerobic digestate plant, which is next to High Hedley Hope Farm at Tow Law, has an environmental permit for food waste. The farm takes the digestate from the plant and spreads it on the farm.

The court heard in March 2021 a hose was torn off the spreader and an unknown quantity of digestate was spilled into a tributary of the River Deerness.

This affected the water quality for around 700m and included dark water with an agricultural smell, dead invertebrates and sewage fungus.

Dead invertebrates and sewage fungus was found in the River Deerness after a hose was torn off the spreader in March, 2021. Credit: Environment Agency

Neither Armstrong, 58, nor the farm itself reported the spill to the Environment Agency.

In addition, the following week, a second spillage of pollution into the tributary was reported and attributed to a leaking slurry lagoon, which Armstrong said he was not aware of.

Mr Paisley added: “We’re concerned about the lack of awareness amongst some farmers, their advisers and contractors, about the Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil (SSAFO) Regulations, despite the fact that these regulations have been around since 1991.

“They are designed to ensure that slurry and dirty water stores, silage clamps and diesel tanks are built or installed in a way which minimises the risk of their contents escaping into the environment and polluting water or land.

"We encourage farmers to engage with us at the earliest opportunity if they are thinking about constructing a new store."