A farming business has been ordered to pay out over £7,000 after it was caught abstracting water illegally five times in less than a month following extremely dry weather.
Dennis (Haddenham) Limited, based at Willow Farm Hall, near Ely, repeatedly broke the law by abstracting water for its potato crop.
The illegal abstractions happened when restrictions were in place following months of extremely dry weather.
They occurred at a number of locations in Waterbeach and Ramsey Heights between 29 June and 20 July 2018. Another was also observed in July 2019 at Ramsey St Mary’s.
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.
Cambridge Magistrates’ Court heard how, on one occasion, the firm illegally took more than 5 million litres of water, enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools.
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.
Nearly 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, Dennis (Haddenham) Limited continued their ‘reckless’ actions.
In total, officers from the Environment Agency and the internal drainage board witnessed the illegal abstractions five times.
Each time, the business 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 didn’t 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.
Yet the company still failed to check what restrictions were in place, even though the instructions for doing so were within the licence. The firm admitted they had not properly 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.
Andrew Raine, environment manager from the Environment Agency said the company 'recklessly and repeatedly flouted the rules'.
"Disadvantaging fellow farmers by selfishly taking more water than they were allowed, and also putting the delicate ecosystems of our rivers at risk.
"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 take action against those who don’t."
Dennis (Haddenham) Limited received a fine of £4,000, costs of £3,680 and a victim surcharge of £181. The Court took into consideration the effect Covid-19 had on the business and their turnover.