Local cheesemaker fined £20K

Alvis Brothers Ltd, a Somerset cheesemaker, is fined £20,000 for its third pollution offence

Alvis Brothers Ltd, who makes Lye Cross Farm cheeses, has been ordered to pay fines and costs of over £23,700 for a third case of causing pollution from their farm, near Bristol.

The company, of Lye Cross Farm, Redhill, Bristol, admitted a charge of causing discharge of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter and fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs totalling £3520.20, and a victim surcharge of £190. The case was brought by the Environment Agency. 

Alvis Brothers Limited supplies a number of large supermarket chains, including Waitrose, Ocado and Asda, and exports to more than 40 countries.

Bristol magistrates heard on Friday that the company had similar offences from 2013 and 2019. District Judge Matthews said that this was another case of the company failing to self-report a pollution incident to the Environment Agency because “they hope to get away with pollution incidents”. She ordered the Farm Operations Director, Nick Green, to tell the court under oath how many times they had self-reported a pollution incident, to which he replied “zero”. 

The court heard that in September 2020, following reports of white discolouration in a watercourse, Environment Agency officers went to a tributary of the Congresbury Yeo, downstream of Lye Cross Farm. The watercourse was milky both in colour and odour.

The source of the pollution was found to have been caused by a blockage in a pipe that took wash water from their cheese production facility to their onsite treatment works which had subsequently overflowed to the watercourse. The blockage had consisted of a plastic bag containing gloves and other plastic.

In a later interview under caution, Mr Green, on behalf of the company, admitted the offence and said the company was sorry and pointed out the measures taken after they became aware of the pollution spill to mitigate the effect on the watercourse.

The Environment Agency maintained in court that the materials that caused the blockage were everyday items clearly inappropriately disposed of, there appeared to be no form of alarm to notify of the blockage to the drainage system or of a spill and while the pollution was clearly visible it was not reported to the Environment Agency.

The judge said that in view of the company’s history of offending, she was not surprised that their offer to the Environment Agency of paying an Environmental Undertaking sum – an alternative penalty to a criminal conviction – was rejected.

Following the court hearing, senior environment officer, Jo Masters said: “This is the third time Alvis Brothers Limited has been prosecuted since 2015 for polluting the watercourse. We strive to work with farmers to prevent pollution through advice and guidance, but we are clear we will take action where offending is repeated and offenders aren’t willing to change their practices to ensure environmental protection. Incidents can be reported to our incident hotline 24/7, 365 days a year on 0800 80 70 60.”