Dairy Crest handed £1.52m fine for polluting river

Thousands of fish killed by biocide used to clean wastewater tanks and pipes
21 July 2022 , By Katie Coyne

Environment Agency issues largest fine yet in the South West of England as it prosecutes Cornish cheesemaker, putting its royal warrant at risk

Cheese maker Dairy Crest has been handed a £1.52m fine for environmental offences related to the Davidstow Creamery near Camelford, north Cornwall.

Offences included leaking part-treated effluent into the River Inny, biocide pollution that killed thousands of fish, coating the river in a noxious black sludge, and foul odours that blighted residents.

The Environment Agency (EA) said it is the largest fine it has ever issued in the South West of England.

The Guardian newspaper reported that the Queen could take-back the royal warrant currently bestowed on the Cathedral City cheesemaker. This would mean it could no longer display the royal coat of arms, which is supposed to denote quality and indicate that the brand is enjoyed by the royal family.

Dairy Crest pleaded guilty to 21 out of 27 charges dating back to 2016 at Truro Crown Court, and in addition to the fine has agreed to pay costs of £272,747.

During sentencing, His Honour Judge Simon Carr identified a poor, middle management culture and said the environmental harm should have been dealt with by senior management sooner.

He said it felt like there was never a time without a problem and some of those responsible for the wastewater treatment plant felt bullied and unable to come forward. Carr also said he had been “moved” when reading testimony from residents whose lives had been “blighted” by odours.

Helen Dobby, EA Area Director said: “As a large and well-established operator, Dairy Crest Limited should be up to the job of maintaining the required environmental standards. Instead, it has over a period of many years failed to comply with its environmental permit and not been able to protect local people and the environment.”

Dobby acknowledged the steps Dairy Crest has been taking to remedy the problems but said on many occasions these were too slow. She added: “The Environment Agency remains deeply concerned about the environmental performance of this site and its impact on the environment. It will continue to monitor the situation and regulate this site closely and urges the operator to make the right decisions and level of investment on site to better protect the wildlife and people of Cornwall.”

“Only 16% of freshwater bodies in England are close to their natural state and intensive livestock operations are partly to blame.”

Rob Percival, Head of Food Policy at the Soil Association said: “This case is emblematic of a national issue. Only 16% of freshwater bodies in England are close to their natural state and intensive livestock operations, which provide much of our meat and dairy, are partly to blame.”

He said these intensive systems create far more manure and slurry than can be safely recycled back into the soil locally, and that intensive farming was making a “royal mess of our rivers”.

Dairy Crest, owned by Canadian firm Saputo, released a statement saying it would like to “express its sincere apologies” to all those affected, and added: “Considerable work has been undertaken to rectify the historic issues to which the prosecution related.

“The Company continues to invest significant resources in the best technology, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimise its impact on the local community.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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