Diesel fuel pollution at Lower Test nature reserve

An update from Debbie Tann

Friday 2nd July 2021

I met with my team and the investigation and response team on site today.  

The Southern Water team have been on site since May and have been working with the Environment Agency and Natural England to narrow down the source of the pollution, undertake monitoring, and implement efforts to clean it up. Whilst there has clearly been a major oil spill by a private company causing the bulk of this latest pollution incident, there is a long history of ongoing small scale issues of fuel leakage into the river, all linked to the adjacent industrial estate.

The lower reaches of the River Test and surrounding wetlands are some of the most important in the world, yet they are surrounded on all sides by heavy industry, roads and development. 

What were the planning authorities thinking to allow a major industrial estate to be built - with fuel depots, heavy goods vehicles and numerous other businesses, posing a high risk of diesel or oil spills  - right next to a highly designated river and nature reserve?!

The infrastructure in place to protect these wetlands from pollution is woefully inadequate. The interceptor owned by the water company is clearly not fit for purpose as it is designed to collect small quantities of surface water runoff rather than fuel spills. It doesn't appear to have been well maintained, being clogged with silt and overgrown with brambles until recently. But even if it had, it’s unlikely it would have stopped diesel from reaching the river with such large quantities of fuel and heavy rainfall overwhelming the system. 

The regulators have been emasculated by years of funding cuts, meaning they are not adequately monitoring or protecting the environment. The companies in the industrial estate don’t appear to have environmental management protocols in place. I could see several areas where oil had leached into the ground, which is clearly making its way through the groundwater. There is no adequate monitoring in place, no early warning system, and little evidence of anyone taking robust precautionary measures to ensure the adjacent natural habitats are protected from these obvious risks. 

And now we have climate change. Heavy rain, storm surges, increased tidal influence along with sea-level rise. All of which increase the risk of future pollution events, easily overwhelming the already inadequate infrastructure in place.  

Who is to blame for this? Well, all of the above - we have a fragmented and frankly incoherent system for managing and looking after our water environment. The planners, the businesses, the environmental regulator, the water company, government policy have all had a role to play in this. There’s a history of massive underinvestment in and disregard for the protection of the natural environment. 

No wonder there is such a disaster unfolding.  And who loses out?  Wildlife.

I don’t want to dwell on the past or spend my energy pointing fingers or arguing about blame. I want a solution. The polluter needs to pay, and compensation is needed to put right the damage to wildlife. But, more importantly, we are pressing the authorities to work with us on a proper, strategic, long term solution to make sure this never happens again. 

Radical change is needed.  Our rivers are flatlining—time to bring them back to life.  

 

 

Read more

Response to fuel oil pollution on our Lower Test Nature Reserve | Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (hiwwt.org.uk)