River Mole Polluter Pays £18,000 in Damages

River Mole Polluter Pays £18,000 in Damages

 A company that polluted nearly 5km of the River Mole, the principal tributary of the River Taw, in Devon has paid £18,000 in damages to local angling clubs and fishery owners following a legal claim. In July 2019 liquid anaerobic digestate deposited by agricultural contractors AJ Sing and Sons Ltd on fields north of South Molton entered the river, causing what was described by one Environment Agency officer as the worst fish kill they had seen in 30 years. An estimated 15,600 fish died as result of the pollution, including juvenile salmon, adult brown trout, sea trout and juvenile brown trout.

Represented by Fish Legal, the anglers’ damages claim followed a criminal prosecution brought by the Environment Agency (EA) where the company and an employee were fined a total of just £2,667 at Exeter Magistrates Court on 28 July 2021.

The anglers are donating all of the damages to help fund projects run by the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) in co-ordination with River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association (RTFS) that improve and restore the habitat and spawning potential of the River Mole, giving fish populations the best chance of recovery.

Justin Neal, Fish Legal Solicitor, said: “The digestate was being spread at a time when there was rain and the leaking pipe was left for days, meaning that this highly damaging waste washed into what was a pristine river habitat, causing a total wipe-out of fish for a considerable distance.”

He added: “Whilst we are pleased that the EA prosecuted those responsible for pollution offences, we are finding in other cases across England and Wales that the spreading of digestate and fertiliser is not properly controlled with full oversight by regulators.  Nevertheless, we hope that the money which was paid to our angler members can now be put to good use to assist the recovery of the catchment.”

Alex Gibson – River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association

Alex Gibson, who was Chair of RTFCA at the time of the pollution incident and is also a claimant said: “It is not just anglers fishing below the polluted stretch, but all those who enjoy the river and its ecology that have felt the devastating effect of this pollution incident and unfortunately will continue to do so into the future.  Our collective claim enables us to provide £18,000 to the WRT for river improvement work on the Mole.

He added: “We hope the fact that anglers on the river have come together to take legal action directly against these polluters will send a message to others in the catchment that they need to take care when dealing with highly toxic substances or pay the consequences.”

Statement from Alex Gibson

“We all remember too well the Mole pollution incident at the end of July 2019. Anaerobic digestate being spread as a fertiliser on fields north of South Molton by Alun Sing, a farmer and contractor, was allowed into the River Mole in large quantities.

The EA estimated that about 15k fish were killed over a 5km stretch. That made it an EA Category 1 incident. Adult sea trout, adult brown trout, juvenile salmon and juvenile brown trout, some of which would have become sea trout, were killed. Also killed were stone loach, bullhead and minnows. In short it was an ecological disaster.

The EA’s prosecution was successful and we then mounted a private action using the services of Fish Legal. This took the form of 5 RTFCA members of Fish Legal acting as claimants. I am pleased to say that our claim has now been successfully settled. The £18k received is being paid by the 5 claimants to WRT for river improvement work on the Mole.

Here are a few conclusions of my own.

  • Farmers should not be allowed to get away with polluting our rivers. Category 1 and where possible Category 2 incidents must be prosecuted by the EA.
  • Offers of Enforcement Undertakings should be declined as RTFCA did in this case. By offering money direct to affected parties the polluter seeks to avoid prosecution. If farmers are not prosecuted there is no deterrent effect to bad practice.
  • Private actions can be successfully brought, but only by concerted action using a specialist service, namely Fish Legal. It was disappointing that only 5 Fish Legal members could be found among RTFCA riparian owners. More members will be encouraged to join Fish Legal and I would make the point more generally for all owners of fisheries elsewhere.
  • As RTFCA has always been aware, anaerobic digesters, of which we have 3 on our river system, and the spreading of digestate from them are a continuing threat to our river and need to be properly regulated and overseen by the EA.

This incident happened during my chairmanship and has reached its conclusion during Andy Gray’s. I hope Andy never has to face anything similar. The RTFCA Committee asked me to continue taking responsibility until the file could be closed. Thankfully we have now reached that stage.

Thanks are due to the other claimants and to the RTFCA Committee, both of which groups, I would suggest, have made the right decisions during this long, drawn-out process.

The success of our private claim though is really down to the excellent work done by Fish Legal and in particular by Justin Neal. For many reasons this was never going to be a straightforward case. I have enjoyed working with Justin, but we will both be happy to close the file.”

                          Alex Gibson


Fish Legal is a not-for-profit organisation of dedicated lawyers who use the law on behalf of anglers to fight polluters and others who damage and threaten the water environment. Fish Legal secures compensation for its members to help restore polluted waters and challenges Government and regulators when they fail to protect fisheries.

  • Fish Legal represented five fisheries on the Mole and the River Taw including the Barle Fishing Club, the Wampford Syndicate and three riparian owners.
  • The River Mole sub-catchment is a highly important spawning and nursery area for salmon in the Taw catchment. The impact on juvenile salmon from this incident will potentially result in some reduction to the number of adult salmon returning to the River Mole in 2021, 2022 and 2023 migration periods.
  • The dead fish included 1,127 adult brown trout, 14 adult sea trout, 1,222 brown trout fry, 328 brown trout parr, 1,155 salmon fry and 315 salmon parr
  • For details of the River Mole prosecution and sentencing outcome: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/north-devon-company-fined-for-pollution-that-devastated-fish-population
  • Fish Legal took legal action on behalf of a member club on the River Leadon in a similar incident in 2016 when an employee instructed to fertilise one of the orchards at a farm near Dymock in Gloucestershire failed to check the valves before turning on the irrigation system designed to take the digestate fertiliser from a lagoon to the orchard. https://fishlegal.net/case-studies/river-leadon/

River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association Urge Anglers support for petition

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The River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association are urging all anglers to support the petitions on the parliament UK website for adequate funding of the Environment Agency.

Petition to increase powers and funding of the Environment Agency

The environment agency is underfunded and underpowered. A great example happened to our very own Mole recently where despite a record fish kill the fine was a paltry £2,000.


This petition asks the government to give more funding to the Environment Agency and to free it from overly business-friendly Government codes and guidance, so it can pursue and achieve its principal statutory objective to protect and enhance English rivers.

The petition has 2 days left to run and needs support, please click on the link below

Give the Environment Agency the funds and freedom to protect English rivers – Petitions (parliament.uk)

River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association – Respond to Mole Pollution Incident

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Mole Pollution Incident July 2019 – EA Prosecution

In the recent prosecution brought by the Environment Agency the guilty pleas were appropriate and not unexpected. The fines however, appear derisory – £2,000 and £667 against a fish kill of around 16,400. These fines don’t reflect the severity of the incident, the damage done to our fish stocks and the ecology of the Mole. Where is the deterrent message to the farming community at a time of poor water quality in our rivers which remain under continuing threat from unsafe farming practices?

See link to EA press release below

We are pleased that the EA carried out a successful prosecution, but extremely disappointed with the final outcome.

Andy Gray, Chairman, RTFCA



North Devon company fined for pollution that devastated fish population

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The North Devon company that caused a pollution incident leading to a devastating fish kill on the River Mole near South Molton has been fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £9,836 in costs.


The charges:

A J Sing and Son Ltd pleaded guilty to the following offence:

Between 29 July 2019 and 1 August 2019 on land at Gortonhill Moors, South Molton you caused a water discharge activity not under or to the extent authorised by an environmental permit, namely by the deposit of organic matter derived from an anaerobic digestion plant on to said land, which subsequently entered the river Mole. Contrary to Regulations 12(1)(b) and 38(1) (a) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

Ryan Adams pleaded guilty to the following offence:

Between 29 July 2019 and 1 August 2019 on land at Gortonhill Moors, South Molton A J Sing and Son Limited caused a water discharge activity not under or to the extent authorised by an environmental permit, namely by the deposit of organic matter derived from an anaerobic digestion plant onto said land, which subsequently entered the river Mole and said water discharge activity was caused by an act or default on your part. Contrary to regulations 12(1)(b) and 38(6) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

COMMENT – North Devon Angling News

Many anglers and conservationists are appalled at the paltry fine issued following a court case relating to a devastating fish kill on the River Mole. The EA estimated that 15,600 fish were killed.

The River Mole is one of North Devon’s premier game fishing rivers a major tributary of the River Taw. Over recent seasons the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association have invested and assisted in major schemes to improve the river habitat and improve upstream migration. This destruction of a pristine river environment will impact upon the river for years to come.

After a long and protracted court case and extensive work by the EA the outcome is appalling. The rivers are vital arteries that flow through our countryside and this generation owes it to those who follow us to ensure a healthy environment. Salmon and sea trout are iconic species that are a barometer to the health of our world. The destruction of habitat should in my view be severely punished to deter any future negligence in agricultural practice.

For more information on the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association click on below link.


Rare Twaite Shad caught on the Mole

Richard Nickell co owner of Blakewell Fishery kindly sent North Devon Angling News a picture of a twaite shad caught whilst fishing for salmon on the River Mole a tributary of the River Taw. The twaite shad is a migratory fish that resembles a herring and run freshwater rivers to breed during late spring. The fish have declined greatly over recent decades with ever decreasing reports of captures in the West Country. The River Wye and Severn still have good runs each year that run into top of the the Bristol Channel.

(Below) Twaite shad caught from the River Wye

James Thomas with a shad from the Wye

It is to be hoped that Richards catch is evidence that a population are still hanging on in the River Taw.

Another migratory fish that enters North Devons river is the sea lamprey an eel like fish that can grow to almost a metre in length. The fish excavate pits amongst stones where they spawn the adults dying shortly afterwards.


DISMAY & ANGER – At Fish kill

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North Devon’s anglers are shocked, angry and dismayed following news of a major fish kill on the River Mole one of the River Taws main tributaries. Various reports indicate that up 10,000 fish have perished over a 5km stretch including salmon, sea trout and brown trout. Early indications are that the pollution was anaerobic digestate. It is vital that the perpetrators are apprehended and a substantial response is imposed by the Environment Agency. A vast amount of time, effort and energy has been invested in improving the habitat of the Taw and its tributaries and it is heart-breaking that this has been impacted upon so severely by this tragic event. With river levels very low at the time of the pollution impact is likely to be severe with no dilution. Anglers are very often first on the scene and should report any incidents immediately to the Environment Agency via their hotline number 0800 807060. Whilst I seldom comment politically, I do feel saddened that the EA’s funding has been cut over recent years as focus is directed elsewhere. As voters’ anglers should give serious consideration to environmental issues when casting their votes.

I have very fond memories of fishing on the Mole and encounters with sea trout and otters. It is to be hoped that the river recovers from this tragic event. Lessons must be learnt from this to prevent future incidents and it is hoped that the penalty imposed will go some way towards highlighting the need for vigilance.

The rate of decline in West Country Rivers is truly alarming. In the forty years that I have visited the rivers I have seen a dramatic collapse in stocks. Remember that in natural terms forty or fifty years are short spans when you consider the long term evolution of salmon and sea trout. Each generation of anglers relates to their own life beside the water and as a result often fail to comprehend the longer term decline in stocks.

The interviews I conducted in research for my soon to be published book , “I Caught A Glimpse” have brought this home to me. Whilst it would be nice to think that salmon will be running our rivers for future generations; I have my doubts. It is likely that without a huge effort salmon will be non-existent within many West Country Rivers within decades. That this should happen during our watch is shameful.