Agricultural college lets the side down on pollution control

13/12/2016

In November, an Environment Agency Category One pollution incident was reported on the Plumpton Mill Stream a head water of the Sussex Ouse.  The pollution was caused by slurry being dumped into the stream from the Plumpton Agricultural College – an institution teaching the next generation of farmers how to farm and, hopefully, how to look after the environment while they are doing it.

Significantly, this was the eighth pollution incident emanating from the College since 2011.  It followed a promise last year that they had refurbished their slurry facilities and reviewed operational procedures to prevent a repeat pollution incident.  They obviously haven’t done a very good job and are showing a total lack of responsibility towards protecting the stream - not a great example to show their students.

These headwaters are vital nursery habitats for the famous River Ouse sea trout, many of which have been killed by the slurry pollution, along with other fish such as bullheads and brook lampreys, both of which are supposedly protected species.

Plumpton College has admitted responsibility and apologised.  But this really isn’t good enough, especially with its appalling pollution record.  Ironically, the College also runs a fisheries management course, which makes this incident even more unbelievable.  Let’s hope they have river pollution clean-up as a curriculum subject.

This has been a crushing blow for the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust, which has invested a huge amount of time and resources into improving juvenile habitat for sea trout on these streams.  It only goes to show that the best of river restoration work is highly vulnerable to serious pollution incidents like this as well as chronic water quality issues that limit productivity throughout the ecosystem.

S&TC has already spoken to the EA about the Plumpton pollution incident and has urged prosecution.  At the very least, the College should be made to pay the river clean-up costs, and also to implement a far more efficient slurry policy.  It is not only about slurry storage, but how and when it is spread on the land that is important.  If the College cannot get that right, then what chance do their students have of learning ‘best practice’ skills before they start their own farming careers?

We now have an opportunity to influence a post-Brexit agri-environment scheme to replace the Common Agricultural Policy that has genuine environmental protection at its core and not just a hand-out to people who earn large tracts of land.  This is an absolute priority for S&TC over the next couple of years.  We also need to work with farmers to adopt practices that protect rivers at the same time as helping their own profit margins.   The solutions are out there but they need to be distributed much more quickly and widely, not just to existing landowners but also to those learning their trade at institutions like Plumpton College.