29 farm slurry pollution cases

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There were 29 confirmed farm slurry pollution incidents in the Mid Ulster District Council area last year, figures obtained by the Times from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency show.

Seventeen of these were assessed as being of low severity - minor localised effect - while 12 were considered of medium severity.

Last year officers from the Environment Agency investigated 39 incidents, 18 of them reported by the public.

Statistics for the years 2011 to 2016 reveal that there were a total of 235 confirmed farm pollution incidents in the districts. Nine of these were assessed as high severity by the Agency, which would include the most serious incidents such as fish kills.

Between these years 83 were assessed as being of medium severity, while 147 were categorised as low severity.

Of the 12 incidents assessed as medium or high severity recorded last year, two resulted in prosecution while six were dealt with by way of a cross-compliance penalty being imposed.

“Other than in the most exceptional cases low severity incidents do not warrant prosecution,” said an Agency spokesperson. “Samples tend only to be collected in the more serious cases where prosecution is being considered.

“Prosecution and other enforcement penalties are generally only appropriate for medium or high severity incidents, and even for these there will be a proportion where enforcement is not appropriate - eg incidents due to an accident where the site operator has taken all reasonable care.

“There are a range of enforcement actions which can be taken, with prosecution obviously being appropriate for the more serious incidents. Other enforcement options include formal warning letters and the imposition of a farm cross-compliance penalty. Farm compliance penalties can result in the loss of some or all of a farmer’s cross-compliance payment.

“Very often the financial losses through cross-compliance penalties are much greater than the fines for pollution typically imposed in court. It is also NIEA policy to recover costs from the polluter and these could be substantial.”