Bessbrook fish kill blamed on farm waste pollution

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A major fish kill in a County Armagh river is being blamed on pollution from farm waste, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has said.

At least 60 fish were killed in the Bessbrook River, in an incident described as being of "high severity".

The NIEA said it expected the number of fatalities to rise. When the alarm was raised the source of the farm effluent was immediately stopped.

The pollution was first reported on Wednesday.

Norman Henderson from the NIEA said a stretch of the river about several miles had been affected, although the agency had received reports of dead fish as far down as the Newry canal.

"The Bessbrook River flows into the Newry canal and then makes its way down through Newry into Carlingford," he said.

The NIEA has collected samples with a view to pursuing appropriate enforcement action, once the investigation is complete.

"We put together the evidence and we take it to court and it's then up to the courts to impose the penalties that they see fit," said Mr Henderson.

"Some of the penalties are quite severe. We had a recent one where a farmer was fined £7,000 and got a suspended jail sentence. The punishments in general and the fines and penalties in general are outside our control."

'Heart wrenching'

Keith Fleming has fished on the Bessbrook River since he was a child.

"It's sort of heart wrenching for us to see so many fish dead - it's a river that I was brought up in," he said.

"It's where most of the anglers around here would have learned to fish as children so it's not a nice thing to see.

"The stretch of the river that has been polluted will be dead for the rest of the year because a lot of that stuff would kill all the aquatic life in the river, so it's not good for an angler to see that."

Mr Fleming said the river contained brown trout, eels and a "few pike".

"I know farmers are under pressure because of good weather to get their silage in," he said.

"But we need to look after what we have because we have some very good lakes and rivers and I think we just need to look after them a lot, lot better."

Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said he was "concerned" to hear about fish kill.

"I will be monitoring developments here closely along with NIEA officials," he said.

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