FARMING company Velcourt Ltd, which manages and advises on farms throughout Europe, polluted a Somerset watercourse with dirty, ammonia-rich water, killing hundreds of fish.

Magistrates have ordered the company to pay £34,000 in the case brought by the Environment Agency.

Velcourt pleaded guilty at North Somerset Magistrates Court yesterday (Monday, April 4) to polluting a tributary of the Hardington Brook, Hardington, on or before August 1, 2018.

The company, whose head office is in Ross-on-Wye, was ordered to pay the Environment Agency costs of £14,000, a total fine of £20,000 and a victim surcharge of £170.

The Environment Agency received reports on August 1 2018 of dead fish in the Hardington Brook and Buckland Brook, tributaries of the River Frome.

Officers attended and found dead fish, including brown trout and bullhead, in the Hardington Brook.

The next day they traced the discoloured water to a side stream flowing from the direction of Manor Farm, where they found a non-permitted discharge from the farm’s surface water drainage system.

The discharge was heavily discoloured, and samples confirmed it would prove fatal to fish because of its concentration of ammonia and very high biological oxygen demand which limited the oxygen supply to the fish in Hardington Brook.

Manor Farm is owned by the Radstock Cooperative Society, but operated on their behalf by Velcourt Ltd, of Orchard House, Phocle Green Business Park, Ross-on-Wye.

The farm manager stopped the discharge and emptied the ditch.

But a follow up inspection by an Environment Officer on September 14, 2018 found polluting matter in the ditch.

The inspection concluded the farm’s dirty drainage system still posed a "high potential pollution risk" due to insufficient storage capacity and appropriate engineering. Consequently, farm run-off was able to enter the surface water ditch and subsequently the watercourse.

The Environment officer concluded the farm infrastructure was not adequately constructed in accordance with the Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (England) Regulations 2010 (SSAFO Regulations).

Clean and dirty water systems were not adequately separated, and the slurry storage and dirty water drainage systems had not kept pace with the expansion of activities at Manor Farm.

Jo Masters, for the Environment Agency, said: “We expect much better from such a large and experienced farming business, both for the environment and the local community.

“Regulations are in place to protect the environment and our communities and by not keeping up with the regulations this company has put the environment at risk of harm.”

Since the incident there has been considerable investment in the farm’s infrastructure and Velcourt has also reviewed arrangements at the other farms it manages.