Persistence pays off in the pursuit of a pesticide problem

This is a terrific outcome for the river, wild fish, the wider environment and the local community.

Nick Measham, CEO S&TC writes,

Bakkavör is closing its salad washing plant at Alresford on the Upper Itchen. In simple terms this should result in an end to significant chemical pollution and provide much needed respite for all biodiversity associated with the river.

It is difficult to celebrate this terrific result for the environment while at the same time local employees of Bakkavör face job losses. But, we should. In our experience it is rarely the case that it comes down to” jobs or the environment”, more often than not there are technical and operational solutions to pollution problems which require only modest investment. It really is the responsibility of Boards to balance their need for every penny of profit, over livelihoods and the environment of local people. Certainly, it is S&TC’s view that consumers and communities are increasingly demanding a “jobs and the environment” approach from business. The environment does not need to be sacrificed for economic growth. We wanted Bakkavor to discharge its environmental obligations to stop polluting the river. We were not seeking closure.

On purely environmental grounds the end to pollution from salad washing is an outcome which we are delighted with. We hope that the local people and community groups long associated with the river will reap the benefits of its increasing health. From our own perspective the closure is a reassuring vindication of S&TC’s unique, and demonstrably effective, strategy to drive change and improve river health to directly benefit wild salmon and trout. A combination of outcome focused scientific study, robust legal posture and patient but forceful campaigning.

Some years ago, following concerns raised by local residents, anglers and conservationists, S&TC lent its weight to efforts to end the environmental damage that Bakkavör was suspected of causing. It was as a direct result of S&TC’s model of producing scientifically analysed invertebrate data on the Itchen (which we popularised under the River Fly Census banner) that we were able to force the Environment Agency to undertake further research into potential pollution coming from the salad washing plant. In June 2018 S&TC made a formal notification of environmental damage to the Environment Agency (EA), pursuant to the Environmental Liability Directive. The EA investigation exposed a number of issues with the site, some of which were resolved promptly, but a pesticide threat was highlighted, which, until the recently announced closure of the plant, remained unresolved and subject to continuous pressure. At the time of the closure, the EA was in the process of imposing a monitoring regime on Bakkavor and Vitacress, its neighbour on a tributary of the River Test, with highly precautionary pesticide discharge limits. It remains to be seen how Vitacress will respond to the challenge of cleaning up its discharge.

S&TC’s role in leading a scientifically evidenced approach to highlight the environmental damage attributable to the operation allowed us to engage significant local and national media interest, including a feature on the BBC’s Countryfile.

Not only did S&TC’s investigations reveal problems with Bakkavör’s operations, it also shone a light on the serious inadequacies of regulation and enforcement options for the EA. Exploration of these issues has led to further revelations which are of national significance. The likelihood of the same issues at Bakkavör Alresford Salads and Vitacress being replicated in other settings, in terms of pollution and inadequate regulation, appear to be high.

A successful outcome in one location will provide a compelling case study, a proven model for eradicating chemical pollution and potentially significant reform of the EA licensing regime across the country.

The chemical problem is national in scale and, if it is to be addressed, it requires a robust, fit for purpose, regime around licensing, monitoring and enforcement.  Both locally and nationally S&TC is using its scientifically based evidence to effect change. S&TC will continue to campaign and create energy and enthusiasm for change, but as with Bakkavör, patience will be required to accommodate the hurdles the EA faces.

Data collection, analysis, legal fees and staff time has come at a significant financial cost, and it is without doubt that our members and donors are owed a debt of gratitude. Being truly financially independent has its challenges, but it allows S&TC to campaign, free of conflicts of interest, more powerfully and effectively.

This is a terrific outcome for the river, wild fish, the wider environment and the local community.

Media Coverage:

Countryfile: https://salmon-trout.org/2019/06/17/bakkavor-alresford-salads-impacting-upper-itchen/

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18602214.updated-salmon-trout-conservation-argue-alresford-salads-pollution-river-itchen/

https://www.endsreport.com/article/1690492/salad-washing-plant-pumped-harmful-levels-neonicotinoid-chalk-stream

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18630704.bakkavor-close-alresford-salad-branch-loss-100-jobs/

https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/18651943.mixed-reaction-bakkavor-factory-closing-doors/

S&TC Recent Press Releases:

Levels of Acetamiprid, a pesticide discharged by Bakkavor into the upper Itchen catchment, have regularly exceeded acceptable concentrations by a factor of up to four times.

https://salmon-trout.org/2020/06/23/toxic-neonicotinoid-washed-off-salad-leaves-into-protected-chalkstream/

Identification of 36 other chemicals from Bakkavor Alresford salad washing activities which could be causing environmental damage.  The company declared they were permitted although the EA believed they “present a real or present danger to the environment”.

https://salmon-trout.org/2020/07/23/thirty-six-toxic-pesticides-washed-into-headwaters-of-sac-chalkstream/

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.