Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Warning to farmers over pollution

Sheep dip - generic
Toxic sheep dip leaked into Chillaton Brook, killing more than 80 fish

The Environment Agency is reminding farmers in Devon and Cornwall about the risk of polluting water courses with agricultural-related products.

The warning comes after magistrates in Plymouth ordered Devon farmer Robert Alford to pay 4,500 in fines and costs on Thursday for polluting a brook.

More than 80 fish died last year when toxic sheep dip leaked into Chillaton Brook - a tributary of the River Lyd.

Mr Alford, of Cardwell Farm, Longcross, Tavistock, pleaded guilty to pollution.

Magistrates heard that the dipping took place in a building on the farm.

'Normally vigilant'

After being dipped, the sheep were held in a concrete yard outside the building but there were cracks in the concrete which meant that pesticide draining off the sheep could escape into the brook via the farm's surface water drainage system.

Government rules state that sheep dip pens should be large enough to hold sheep for 10 minutes after dipping.

The floors should be properly sealed and designed so as to prevent pesticides from soaking into the ground, soil or surface water drains.

It can take months and even years for fish to re-colonise a stretch of water which has been contaminated
Mike Dunning, Environment Agency

The Environment Agency says it has had a number of incidents in the south west of England in recent years where by-products of farming have leaked into water courses.

"We have had incidents of farm slurry, diesel , dairy by-products and the occasional case of sheep dip contaminating water courses which has caused a devastating effect on fish stocks and aquatic insects," said Mike Dunning, from the Environment Agency.

"It can take months and even years for fish to re-colonise a stretch of water which has been contaminated."

According to Mr Dunning, just a tiny speck of toxic chemical can have a devastating effect.

Just 90 millionths of a gram of sheep dip is toxic to trout - a teaspoon would hold just four grammes.

"Normally farmers are very vigilant and are aware how toxic pesticides can be but we just want to remind them to be extra careful because it only takes a small amount to get into a water course for the consequences to have a long-term detrimental effect."

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