THE HUNT is on for the culprits who dumped a deadly pesticide into the River Kennet, causing a major pollution alert in Hungerford.
The pollution was first discovered on Monday, July 1, by volunteer riverfly monitors working for Action for the River Kennet (ARK).
ARK director Charlotte Hitchmough said: “The water had been a funny colour for a long time, caused by an algal bloom, and we were watching it carefully as it was a cause for concern.
“Then suddenly on Sunday, the water went clear. At first we were very pleased. But then we tested the water and found that all the invertebrates – the bugs that the fish and birds eat – had disappeared.”
The Environment Agency was immediately alerted, as well as downstream river keepers.
The pollution spread from the Elcot Lane area to beyond Ramsbury, but the river upstream of Elcot remained healthy.
The River Kennet is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and one of England’s finest chalkstreams. The incident is one of the largest ever and has wiped out insect life – a major source of food for fish and other wildlife – in around a third of the river.
Investigations revealed a chemical called chlorpyriphos was released into the river close to Marlborough.
The organophosphate is lethal to aquatic invertebrates, although few fish appear to have been directly affected.
Newbury MP and Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, said: “This would be a major concern for me whatever river was affected but I am particularly angered that it has happened in the Kennet. We will find out how this happened and those responsible will be held to account. Most importantly we must ensure that everything is done to make sure it never happens again.”
Angling Trust spokesman and former Reading West MP Martin Salter, said: “We want to know why on earth a lethal chemical like chlorpyriphos is allowed to be used anywhere near a river or watercourse. Apparently the 15 kms wipeout of invertebrates between Marlborough and Hungerford may have been caused by as little as a couple of spoonfuls of the stuff. If this is the case then the sooner we follow the lead of Singapore and America and ban it the better.”
Hungerford Fishery water keeper Robert Starr said that, even if fish stocks remain untouched, there is now little left for them or other wildlife to eat.
Meanwhile recent sampling has shown that the pesticide has begun to dissipate naturally and Public Health England has advised that the previous restrictions asking the public and pets to avoid skin contact with the water can be removed.
The Food Standards Agency has also advised that there should be no restrictions on eating fish caught in the river.
Environment Agency spokesman Paul Hudson said: “We are still trying to trace the source of the pesticide, and we would appeal for anyone who has information to come forward so that we can take steps to educate those responsible and others to try to prevent it from happening again.
“We are also meeting with business owners along the Kennet regularly to keep them informed of the latest information.”
Anyone with any information about this incident, or any pollution or environment incident, should contact the Agency hotline number 0800 80 70 60.