Anglers net compensation for water pollution

The Anglers' Conservation Association won about 50 civil actions against water polluters during 2004, securing compensation for loss of fishing amenity. In the latest case, the ACA reached an out of court settlement with juice manufacturer Sunjuice for damage caused to the river Mychydd in south Wales.

The ACA was formed in 1948 with the purpose of using common law to protect fisheries from pollution. Since then, its litigation specialists have won more than 2,000 cases on behalf of angling clubs, recovering more than £2 million in damages. Throughout its history it has lost only three cases.

Notable success came in 1952 when it secured damages for the Pride of Derby Angling Association in action against chemical company British Celanese. The case reached the Court of Appeal and set a precedent for subsequent cases.

Significant cases since then include a £415,000 pay-out from a farmer and haulage company for fertiliser pollution in the river Eden in 1993, and a £90,000 payment from North West Water for polluting a wildfowl site near Southport in 1995 (ENDS Report 240, p 44 ).

More recently, the ACA has expanded its legal team to cope with a steady stream of compensation cases.

During 2004, the Association won about 50 cases, mostly settled out of court. The damages ranged from a few hundred pounds to the £60,000 obtained from the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland for sewage pollution on the Upper Bann.

Other recent successes include cases against Welsh Water for sewage pollution on the river Llynfi and the London Soap and Chemical Company for detergent in the river Cray.

The ACA's latest victory is over fruit juice producer Sunjuice on behalf of Llantrisant and Pontyclun Anglers' Association in Mid Glamorgan.

The case follows a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency in December 2002 at Llwynypia magistrates court. Sunjuice was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,162 after pleading guilty to offences under section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991.

In May 2001, dead fish had been spotted in the river Mychydd, which had orange sediment on its bed. That sediment, together with whole oranges, peel and orange segments, had been discharged to foul sewer by Sunjuice in breach of its trade effluent consent.

The material blocked the sewer and was released into the Nant Mychydd when the sewer suffered a fracture. Analysis of the discharge showed it to have a pH of 4.3 - much lower than the Sunjuice's discharge consent limits of pH 6-11. More than 800 dead fish were counted, including salmon parr, brown trout and lamprey.

Three and a half years after the court case, the ACA has now secured an out-of-court payment of £900 from Sunjuice to compensate for the loss of angling amenity.

The ACA's methodology for calculating the damages is accepted by the courts, insurance companies and loss adjusters. Had the club owned the site, it could also have claimed for loss in capital value.

"The initial shock from polluters when you alert them to the claim can be huge," said ACA litigation specialist Guy Linley-Adams.

"We often get a stuttering voice saying 'But we've already paid our fine' - as if the fine was a small cost to pay for polluting and that was that. We then have to let them down gently by spelling out the difference between criminal prosecutions by the Agency and a civil claim brought on behalf of a fishing club by the ACA. The next call we get is from a hastily instructed solicitor."

The Association is also preparing a number of cases regarding pollution from combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

"Anglers are reporting that pipes that flowed once in a blue moon twenty years ago are now pouring raw or poorly screened sewage on a regular basis - sometimes even in dry weather," said Mr Linley-Adams.

"Its not yet clear whether this is due to the system being unable to cope, poor maintenance by the water company, or perhaps even deliberate exploitation of CSOs and 'emergency' discharge consents to the full," he added.

Other issues lined up for civil action include diffuse agricultural pollution, over-abstraction of water and the escape of rainbow trout from fish farms.

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