Farmers need to urgently check equipment following deadly slurry spill

Following a major pollution incident causing a catastrophic fish kill in the Ballinderry River in County Tyrone, the head of the local Rivers Trust has called on farmers to urgently check their equipment to prevent further incidents.

Hundred of fish were killed in the slurry spill on the Claggan River, Cookstown.
Hundred of fish were killed in the slurry spill on the Claggan River, Cookstown.

Mark Horton, Chief Executive of Ballinderry Rivers Trust, a conservation charity that works to protect and improve the river, said: “To avoid any further slurry incidents on this river, or any river, the Ballinderry Rivers Trust is directly appealing to all farmers to urgently check there is sufficient capacity in their slurry stores and that all above ground slurry tank valves are properly maintained and secure.”

At the end of last month, it was reported that a 400,000-gallon slurry spill on the Clagagn River, a tributary of the Ballinderry River, killed thousands of brown trout, Dollaghan trout, salmon, gudgeon and sticklebacks. The Ballinderry River is home to one of Northern Ireland’s last remaining populations of the globally endangered freshwater pearl mussel, which can live for over 100 years and relies on trout as part of its life cycle.

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The spill impacted 29 kilometres (18 miles) of the river, right to where it joins Lough Neagh. It is not yet clear how the slurry spill happened, and there is an ongoing investigation by DAERA Water Quality Inspectors and Inland Fisheries Officers.

“This slurry spill is a huge setback to the decades of work that both Ballinderry Rivers Trust and local angling clubs have been doing to improve the Ballinderry’s rivers for wildlife and the local community,” Mark said.

“This is a catastrophic pollution incident that happened when water levels were low, so there has been little dilution of the slurry, and it is slow-moving through the river system. Unfortunately, that means generations of fish have been wiped out, and it will take many years for the river to recover.”

As part of the wider Rivers Trust movement across the UK and Ireland, Ballinderry Rivers Trust was established in 1984 as a charity that works with landowners and river users throughout the Ballinderry River system and along the western shore of Lough Neagh to improve water quality and protect its precious wildlife.

Working with landowners in the different parts of the Ballinderry River system, the Trust has recently completed over £300,000 worth of on-farm interventions with local landowners, targeted at making farm business water-friendly and more sustainable. Water and Environment Management Plans for over 70 farms have been produced so far, with landowners taking action to protect their local rivers.

Mark said: “Many in the farming community are working extremely hard to farm in a water-friendly way but this devastating slurry spill is a warning and timely reminder that vigilance and care are required in all agricultural practices. It’s not just a slurry spill of this magnitude that can damage watercourses; care needs to be taken when spreading slurry or using chemicals, such as pesticides, around the farm.

“To minimise the impact of slurry run-off into rivers and streams, we encourage farmers to follow best practice and only spread slurry where land and weather conditions allow, always checking weather forecasts before spreading as rainfall could wash valuable nutrients off your land.”

“Our rivers are delicate ecosystems supporting many wildlife and aquatic species and supplying our drinking water. Rivers are shared natural community assets and must be considered and protected in all agricultural, industrial, leisure, and domestic activities. Only through working together can we help protect our local rivers now and for future generations.”

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Hundreds of fish killed in major slurry spill in Co Tyrone