A Cornwall creamery behind cheese brands such as Cathedral City has been fined £1.5m - the largest fine ever awarded for an Environment Agency (EA) conviction in the South West.
Pollution from the operation had killed thousands of fish, covered the River Inny in a noxious black sludge and inflicted a four odour on neighbouring residents, Truro Crown Court heard.
The EA argued that Dairy Crest Limited, owned by Saputo Dairy UK, and its management of the Davidstow Creamery near Camelford, North Cornwall, had failed to meet its standards on liquid waste management, odour management and environmental reporting.
Whey processing at the creamery made the effluent being discharged into the River Inny more challenging to treat, according to the EA.
"This has resulted in unacceptable pollution of the local river, which is a tributary of the River Tamar, causing significant harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife. Another issue has been foul odours which have often affected the lives of local residents," the regulator said.
Dairy Crest previously pleaded guilty to 21 of 27 charges brought by the Environment Agency. The firm was fined £1.52 million for committing the offences at the crown court on 23 June 2022. It had already agreed to pay costs of £272,747.
Delivering the sentence, Judge Simon Carr identified a poor management culture as a contributing factor to the environmental harm caused.
The offences included:
- Releasing a harmful biocide, used to clean the wastewater tanks and pipework, into the river and killing thousands of fish over a 2-kilometre stretch on 16 August 2016.
- Coating the River Inny with a noxious, black sludge for 5 kilometres in 2018, through a release of a mass of suspended solids in July and August 2018.
- Consistently exceeding limits on substances like phosphorous and suspended solids entering the River Inny from 2016 up to 2021.
- Numerous leaks of part-treated effluent into nearby watercourses and onto the land.
- Foul odours repeatedly affecting residents over many years.
- Failing to tell the Environment Agency within 24 hours of when things had gone significantly wrong on site on seven separate occasions.
Helen Dobby, Area Director of the Environment Agency, said: "As a large and well-established operator, Dairy Crest Limited should be up to the job of maintaining the required environmental standards. Instead, it has over a period of many years failed to comply with its environmental permit and not been able to protect local people and the environment.
"We acknowledge that Dairy Crest Limited has been taking steps to remedy the various problems, but unfortunately, these actions were not swift enough on many occasions and proved to be ineffective in stopping pollution."
A spokesperson for Dairy Crest Limited apologised to those who have been affected, adding that "considerable work has been undertaken to rectify the historic issues to which the prosecution related".
"The Company continues to invest significant resources in the best technology, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimise its impact on the local community."