Family farm prosecuted after 'catastrophic' collapse of slurry store

(Photo: NRW)
(Photo: NRW)

A family farm has been ordered to pay out over £13,000 following the 'catastrophic' collapse of a slurry store which polluted at least 12km of waterways.

Rhydsais Farm, in Talgarreg, Ceredigion, was prosecuted by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) after the farm’s slurry store collapsed in February 2022.

This released between 60,000 and 70,000 gallons of slurry into an unnamed tributary of the Afon Clettwr Fach.

Water sample analysis from the subsequent investigation showed 'significant' pollution levels from the farm to the confluence of the Afon Clettwr with the Afon Teifi, 12km away.

The collapse of the slurry store was initially reported to NRW by one of the farm directors, and subsequent pollution reports were made to the body by members of the public, downstream from the farm.

Environment officers from NRW were diverted from other duties to investigate the incident on the farm and to assess the downstream impact.

On the day of the incident, the river downstream was found to be heavily discoloured and covered in foam, with a strong odour of slurry.

Six dead fish were discovered in the Afon Clettwr Fach the day after the incident. NRW said this likely underestimates the total fish kill as the pollution had caused poor visibility, and the rivers were in high flow following rain.

(Photo: NRW)
(Photo: NRW)

A day after the incident, Welsh Water alerted NRW to unusually high levels of ammonia detected at the Llechryd Water Treatment Works abstraction point which supplies water to properties in south Ceredigion.

The abstraction point was promptly closed until ammonia levels had dropped. According to NRW, the elevated level of ammonia may have been due to the Rhydsais slurry flowing through.

During the body's investigation, it was revealed that the collapsed slurry store had been in place since the 1970s and had not received any formal maintenance apart from visual inspections in the past decade.

NRW contended in court that the pollution was caused by the slurry store being beyond its lifespan and had not been maintained properly.

Rhydsais Cyf was found guilty of an offence under the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2016.

They were ordered to pay a total of £13,035. This included a £5,000 fine, a victim surcharge of £190 and £7,845 towards NRW’s costs of bringing the prosecution.

Dr Carol Fielding, team leader of the NRW's Ceredigion Environment Team, emphasised the severity of the environmental damage.

She said: "The impact of this incident was felt well beyond the stream that the slurry entered. It damaged water quality and local wildlife within the catchment of the Afon Teifi.

“Every farmer has a duty to ensure their slurry stores are structurally sound to prevent such disasters.

"We will not hesitate to take enforcement action - including prosecution - when we have evidence of serious environmental breaches."