Potato farmer pays the price for ‘recklessly and repeatedly’ abstracting water without a licence

A farmer repeatedly broke the law by abstracting water for its potato crop, a court heard.

The illegal abstractions happened when restrictions were in place following months of extremely dry weather.

Cambridge magistrates heard how, on one occasion, Dennis (Haddenham) Ltd illegally took more than five million litres of water, enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools.

Dennis (Haddenham) Ltd of Willow Farm Hall, Hillrow Causeway, Haddenham, was fined £4,000, costs of £3,680 and a victim surcharge of £181.

The court took into consideration the effect Covid-19 has had on the business and their turnover.

Andrew Raine of the Environment Agency said it was their job to manage when, where and how much water is taken from our rivers.

“The evidence shows this company recklessly and repeatedly flouted the rules,” he said.

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He accused the company of “disadvantaging fellow farmers by selfishly taking more water than they were allowed, and also putting the delicate ecosystems of our rivers at risk”.

Mr Raine said: “We recognise that farmers face a challenge in balancing their needs with those of the environment. We will always work with those who want to do the right thing, but we will also act against those who do not.

“We all have a duty to do the right thing for the environment and we hope this case serves as a warning to those who would ignore this responsibility.”

He added: “Over-abstraction can deplete a river’s natural flow and even have an impact on groundwater levels.

“Protecting these levels is essential for a healthy ecology that is naturally resilient to drought and is safe for people to enjoy for recreation and wellbeing.”

The court heard that illegal abstractions occurred at several locations in Waterbeach and Ramsey Heights between June 29 and July 20 2018. Another was also observed in July 2019 at Ramsey St Mary’s.

Magistrates were told the company repeated the crime less than a year later, illegally abstracting more water despite knowing they were already under investigation for the previous occasions.

On another visit, an Environment Agency officer said a pump was running for 8 hours because no one from the company could attend to turn it off.

A month later, when a total ban on abstraction was in place, another visiting officer observed badly connected abstraction pipes ‘gushing’ with wasted water.

Despite leaving a warning notice on the company’s equipment and providing advice and guidance, the company continued their ‘reckless’ actions, prosecutors alleged.

Officers from the Environment Agency and the internal drainage board witnessed the illegal abstractions no less than six times. Each time, the company either had no licence to abstract, or broke the conditions of their licence by abstracting when restrictions were in force.

In a formal interview, a representative of the company admitted to the offences but claimed they did not understand the terms of the licences they were using.

The court heard that any farmer should have predicted the potential for restrictions on water use, given the dry conditions.

It was alleged that the company still failed to check what restrictions were in place, even though the simple, straight-forward instructions for doing so were within the licence. The company admitted they had not reviewed the licence.

During the hearing, the defence expressed their remorse and said that the company have now amended their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with their licences.

List of charges:

On July 9, 2018 at Long Drove, Waterbeach, abstracted water from a source of supply, namely an unnamed Internal Drainage Board drain, without a licence.

On June 29, 2018 at St Mary’s Road, Ramsey St Mary’s, abstracted water without a licence.

Between July 16, 2018 and July 20, 2018 at Dentons Chase, Ramsey St Mary’s, abstracted water otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of abstraction licence.

On July 13, 2019 at Ugg Mere Court Road, Ramsey Height, abstracted water from a source of supply, namely an unnamed Internal Drainage Board drain without an abstraction licence.