On 17th December 2016, around 44,000 gallons of pollutant leaked into the Teifi from an anaerobic digestion plant near Tregaron. It killed an estimated 18,000 fish on a five-mile stretch of this SAC-designated river, which is renowned for its sea trout (sewin) and salmon.
Subsequent Fish Legal investigations found a litany of regulatory failures both before and after the incident.
Firstly, the plant did not have planning permission at the time of the pollution. It was six months afterwards that the operator applied to Ceredigion County Council for retrospective planning.
And it is still operating without planning permission today. The local authority has yet to make a decision on whether or not to grant it.
Shortly after the pollution in 2016, Natural Resources Wales told the site owner that it would not agree to the plant operating until planning permission had been given.
One year later, Natural Resources Wales officers inspected the site and found that it was, in fact, still operational.
The expected outcome would have been for the AD plant to be closed down and the operator brought to book. Instead, Natural Resources Wales went ahead and gave the plant an environmental permit. Since issuing the permit, Natural Resources Wales have raised “significant” concerns about pollution risks from the plant with Ceredigion County Council on at least three occasions.
Fish Legal objected to the planning application and highlighted the case to Lesley Griffiths SM, Minister for Rural Affairs in 2019. The Minister responded by saying the delay and lack of planning enforcement was a matter for Ceredigion County Council.
The case has exposed significant gaps in planning, regulation and enforcement of a polluting anaerobic digestion facility. For now, the plant remains operational, leaving the Teifi and its ecology vulnerable to another catastrophe.