A CONSERVATION group has hit out at a salad washing firm and the environmental watchdogs after the findings of an investigation into river pollution were released.

The Environment Agency (EA) carried out the investigation after the Salmon and Trout Conservation group (STC) raised concerns about the work of Alresford Salads, owned by company Bakkavor.

The report found that sewage and pesticides from a salad washing factory owned by Bakkavor Group Plc “poses a potential risk of exposure to invertebrates downstream” in the highly-protected River Arle chalk stream, but couldn’t be any more conclusive than that.

As previously reported, campaigners near the Alresford Salads site who were fighting plans by Bakkavor to change a permit – that is still being considered – feared the chalk stream was being damaged by chemicals entering the water through salad-washing, although this was disputed by the company.

The report, released by the EA earlier this month, did find “compliance issues” with regards to the company’s sewage.

It said: “We advised the company to cease discharging their sewage – and since February 13 2019 the discharge has been removed from site by tanker with no discharge currently being made to the environment.

“The company [is] currently undertaking investigations with the aim of resolving this matter."

However, it added: “It is unlikely that environmental damage has occurred as a result of organic inputs that could have led to a deterioration of the invertebrate community.”

Commenting on pesticide concerns the report found “there is potential risk that environmental damage may have occurred as a result of pesticides”, with “potentially 14 pesticides entering the watercourse in the vicinity which may be associated with the company”.

Nick Measham, STC’s deputy CEO, said: “The only sensible way to protect the river is for Bakkavor to be required to put the water it uses back into the river at the same quality at which it abstracts. If it can’t do that, it must cease discharging altogether.

“STC is happy to work with Bakkavor Group Plc if its management begins to show a genuine willingness to undertake efforts to remedy the impacts of its operations.

“STC will pursue the company relentlessly if it does not fulfill its obligations to protect the Upper Itchen.”

Dr Janina Gray, head of science and environmental policy, added: “The EA cannot continue to put chemicals, especially pesticides, in the ‘too difficult to deal with box’.

“This cocktail of chemicals is having an environmental impact now and can no longer be ignored.”

In response, EA environment manager (Solent and South Downs) Dawn Theaker said: “The Environment Agency works incredibly hard to protect the quality of our Hampshire watercourses, including the River Itchen.

“There are a number of currently approved pesticides detected that we are actively working to reduce through cooperation, regulation and changes to the permit. Working with businesses, we are using cutting edge technology to ensure that the quality of their discharges to the river are even further improved.”

A spokesperson for Bakkavor said: “As a responsible business, we are passionate about the local environment and community that we are part of. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.

“We do not compromise on the exacting standards demanded by the Environment Agency and we are currently working through a permit variation process with them.

“We are proud of the improvements we have made over the years and absolutely recognise our duty of care towards the River Itchen.

“We will continue to work with our partners and expert environmental advisors to support the continued protection of this important river system.”