Restocking of River Witham continues after pollution incident whick killed more than 100,000 fish

Around 34,000 fish were released into the River Witham last week by the Environment Agency (EA) as part of ongoing efforts to help the river recover from the devastating pollution incident last year.

The fish being released by the Environment Agency
The fish being released by the Environment Agency

The year-old roach and bream, measuring 5–10cm in length, were bred at the EA’s national coarse fish farm before being transported and released into the river by fisheries officers.

It brings the total of fish released into the River Witham in the last year to around 74,000, plus approximately 1.5 million larvae.

The restocking will help restore the river to its natural, healthy state following devastating pollution last March, when ammonia badly affected the river and its ecosystems from Bardney to the Wash.

Darren Randall, fisheries officer at the EA, said: “A river can take years or even decades to recover from such a serious pollution incident – but we’re doing everything we can to help return it to its former glory as soon as possible.

“Reintroducing these fish will help restore the complex ecosystems and the natural balance of this precious river, although it will be a long process.”

In December 2018, the EA issued agricultural and fertiliser company Omex Agriculture Ltd based at Bardney Airfield, near Tupholme, with a ‘notice of liability’ under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2015.

The notice – only the second the EA has issued since the regulations came into place – requires the company to develop plans for repairing the environmental damage caused when ammonia entered the river in March 2018, killing more than 100,000 fish.

The incident is thought to be the worst river pollution ever recorded in the county.

As previously reported in the Horncastle News, Omex Agriculture Ltd released a statement in January this year.

The company stressed that the pollution incident was the first one in 42 years at the Bardney site.

The statement said: “As soon as the incident was discovered, the leak was stopped and repaired and OMEX has since been working with the Environment Agency to restore the river and has provided funding for consultant ecologists to manage the re-population of fish as quickly and sustainably as possible.

“Omex takes safe storage very seriously – this is the first incident of its kind at the Bardney site in the 42 years of operations – and we are committed to the remedial work required and installing new measures to ensure that this incident cannot happen again.”

As revealed in March this year, following the fertiliser leak Omex volunteered to carry out remediation work, which included tree felling and soil removal from New York Wood, which borders the Omex site.

Speaking in March, a Forestry Commission spokesperson said: “In March 2018, an incident resulted in pollution in the River Witham and ancient woodland New Park.

“The threat to the water environment is now contained and our current focus is on removing all the pollutant from the site.

“The felling of some trees in New Park Wood is necessary to make the site safe and allow access for the clean-up operation.

“The felling was licensed by the Forestry Commission after a period of public consultation.”

At the time, an EA spokesperson added: “Our priority is helping the River Witham recover to its natural, healthy state as soon as possible.

“Omex have submitted a proposal to restore the river, which we are currently reviewing to make sure it represents the best results for the environment. “Meanwhile our criminal investigations into the pollution continue, and we’ll make a decision on further enforcement actions once they’re complete.””