Devon farmer who made illegal slurry store fined over £15,000

An aerial view of the farmer's illegal slurry store (Photo: Environment Agency)
An aerial view of the farmer's illegal slurry store (Photo: Environment Agency)

A Devon farmer has been ordered to pay out over £15,000 and undergo 60 hours of unpaid work after he contaminated a private water supply with an illegal slurry store.

Derek Dyer, a 74-year-old farmer from Yarcombe near Honiton, also polluted a stream after the slurry store built from farmyard manure collapsed.

At Exeter magistrates earlier this month, he admitted one charge of causing pollution and two charges related to the construction of an illegal slurry store.

In a case brought by the Environment Agency, the court heard that agency officers went to the field in January 2023 following several reports of pollution in a tributary of the River Isle.

The pollution was traced to a large structure made from farmyard manure which had been constructed to store slurry.

Part of one of the walls had collapsed resulting in the entire store contents pouring out and causing widespread contamination and damage.

The slurry flowed across two fields and down the hillside into a wooded area, according to Environment Agency officers.

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.

EA officers found slurry pollution through local woodland (Photo: Environment Agency)
EA officers found slurry pollution through local woodland (Photo: Environment Agency)

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.

Extensive contamination occurred within the wooded area where springs supply drinking water for several properties on the Chilworthy Estate.

The court heard that the estate provided bottled drinking water to all residents as soon as they became aware of the potential pollution of their water supply.

Samples of the drinking water supply later confirmed elevated levels of E.coli and total coliforms above drinking water standards.

A wild swimming pond at a nearby glamping site had also been polluted with slurry, the Environment Agency said.

In a statement submitted to the agency, Mr Dyer admitted that he and his son had used the rented field for the store because they did not have sufficient slurry storage and that an application for a new store had been delayed by the Local Planning Authority.

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

Following the court hearing, Dave Womack of the Environment Agency said Mr Dyer showed a 'flagrant disregard of the law'.

"In over 30 years of regulating farms I have never seen such extensive contamination by slurry," he said.

"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."

Mr Dyer was ordered to pay total costs of £15,388 and surcharge of £114 by District Judge Smith at Exeter magistrates.