Case study: The River Itchen

Issue: Suspected Chemical Pollution

Source: a Bakkavör salad washing plant at Alresford, Hampshire


Published in 2018. Campaign active.

The Bakkavör story - Wildfish
The Bakkavör story - Wildfish
The Bakkavör story - Wildfish

The evidence

Our Riverfly Census professionally sampled aquatic invertebrate species to assess water quality.

The River Itchen – one of 12 rivers sampled in the 2018 census – is a chalk stream, Special of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The Census results recorded low numbers of Gammarus and mayfly species at sites sampled along the river. The evidence pointed to an external pressure. It also indicated that the discharge permits in place to protect the river were not fit for purpose.

What did our investigation find?

1. Research

The bed of a healthy chalk stream should show clear, un-sedimented gravel.

In contrast, the River Itchen at Alresford was dominated by filamentous algae, with some fungal component.

2. Lobbying

In June 2018 we made a formal notification of environmental damage to the Environment Agency (EA), in accordance with the Environmental Liability Directive. This forced the EA to undertake further research into pollution that we suspected was coming from the Bakkavör salad washing plant.

The EA investigation exposed several issues with the site. The monitoring found a suite of pesticides, including Acetamiprid – a neonicotinoid very dangerous to aquatic life – were being washed from the salad leaves and entering the river via the discharge water.

After continued pressure, Bakkavör was required to monitor and report all pesticides which could be present in their discharge.

3. Outcome

In late 2020, rather than invest in the site to prevent the chemical pollution, Bakkavör announced that they would close the salad washing plant at Alresford on the Upper Itchen.

Water Pattern - Wildfish

A national model

Our work on the River Itchen prompted further research into food washing facilities across England.

52 other discharge permits were identified as potentially discharging unmonitored pesticides into rivers and groundwaters.

The Environment Agency committed to reviewing all these licences.

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