Salmon spawning grounds polluted by fishery works

A former fisheries consultant was fined £9,000 for authorising work that led to the pollution of an important local spawning ground for salmon.

Perth Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday how Richard Philp had given the go ahead for work to restore a reservoir at Perthshire’s Whitehouse of Dunira Estate without putting in proper measures to protect the environment.

The investigating officer from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said the resulting silt pollution was the worst of its kind he had seen in ten years on the job.

The work, which was done in March 2008 by a sub-contractor, resulted in suspended solids -silt- entering the Allt Sgairnich Mhoir, a tributary of the River Earn identified by the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board as one of the most important spawning grounds on the river.

The pollution then flowed into the river itself.

When officers arrived at the River Earn they found the water was heavily polluted, and traced the pollution up the Allt Sgairnich Mhor to some works which were being carried out to clear out and restore a fishing pond at the Dunira Estate, Comrie.

SEPA officers took samples of the watercourse and measured silt deposits, finding that concentrations of silt were over 200 times higher than those in a non-polluted stretch of the stream.

They also found deposits of over 30cm of silt on the bed of the watercourse immediately downstream of the works.

A SEPA fishery ecologist also attended and made an assessment on the likely impact on any spawning redds in the watercourse.

Calum McGregor, a senior environment protection officer for SEPA based in Perth, said: “I have over 10 years experience dealing with pollution incidents and have never seen an impact from suspended solids of this scale before.

“A significant volume of silt was released and deposited into an important river at a critical time in the life cycle for salmon, sea trout and brown trout. Most, if not all, of them would have spawned in the River Earn by the time of the incident and their eggs would have been very vulnerable.

“The silt, which was up to 30 centimetres deep, also caused a significant impact on the invertebrate ecology.

“It was entirely foreseeable that the works at the reservoir would result in the release of suspended solids pollution unless proper mitigation plans were put into place.

“The works included removing about 1,000 tonnes of silt, while allowing a watercourse to run through a construction area.

“Guidance on working in or near watercourses and guidance on the risk of pollution associated with construction works, including the risk of silt pollution, has been produced and it would have been possible to overpump or divert the watercourse ensuring that the suspended solids were not allowed to be discharged or escape from the works.

“Despite the obvious risk of silt pollution no consideration was given to pollution prevention measures before or during the works. Not even the most basic steps were taken to stop silt being released to the environment.”

The estate has changed ownership since the time of the incident and Philp entered a guilty plea when first charged with the offence.

The charges were made under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 Regulation 5 and 40(1)(a) and the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 Section 20(3)(a).

Sam Bond

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