Wessex Water pays for polluting Dorset nature reserve
Published: 21 Feb 2020

Wessex Water offered to pay an enforcement undertaking of £35,000 towards environmental improvements at Stoborough Heath nature reserve after a sewer main burst in January 2018, which polluted a surface water ditch.

Stoborough Heath is a National Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Natural England. The reserve has numerous water-filled ditches rich in plant and animal life.

The pollution had a severe impact on aquatic invertebrates over a distance of approximately 100 metres, deteriorating water quality. This was shown from raised levels of ammonia and sewage fungus in the ditch. There was no impact on the main watercourse.

Wessex Water reported the incident and later admitted an unauthorised discharge of sewage to surface water ditch contrary to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154.

Wessex Water has since spent £50,000, installing a burst detection system along the rising main that caused the pollution in 2018.

Janine Maclean of the Environment Agency discussed the enforcement undertaking and commented that the burst rising main at Stoborough had a clear and significant impact on Stoborough Heath.

"The £35,000 enforcement undertaking has ensured local charities and projects benefit and will be spent on improving the local environment.

"The burst detection system installed by Wessex Water will ensure any future bursts will be detected earlier and prevent significant damage should a similar incident occur in the future".

An enforcement undertaking is a civil sanction used in less serious cases where it is not in the public interest to prosecute. They are used to:

  • change behaviour;
  • ensure future compliance;
  • put right any environmental harm;
  • benefit those impacted;
  • improve the environment.

The Environment Agency accepted Wessex Water's offer of £25,000 to the RSPB. The money will be spent on ditch and wetland habitat restoration at Lytchett Fields, and heathland management at the RSPB's nearby Arne reserve.

The company also offered £10,000 to Dorset Wildlife Trust as a contribution towards environmental improvements as part of the Poole Harbour Catchment Partnership Project. Wessex Water also carried out further actions to benefit an impacted third party.

It was agreed to pay the Environment Agency its legal costs of £2,497.30.