Fish stock fears surface after diesel spill

Roger French checks on a boom which has been placed where water from the Sprouston Burn runs into the Tweed at Newtown St Boswells.
Roger French checks on a boom which has been placed where water from the Sprouston Burn runs into the Tweed at Newtown St Boswells.
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DIESEL was still spilling into the River Tweed yesterday – more than a week after it was first reported.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has confirmed around 700 litres of diesel leaked into the Sprouston Burn at Newtown St Boswells, a tributary of the Tweed.

But as of yesterday, eight days after a member of the public alerted the quango to the spill, there were reports of diesel still reaching the Tweed at one of its most popular fishing stretches.

Newtown St Boswells Community Council vice-chairman Roger French claims booms placed in the Sprouston Burn to stem the flow of fuel into the Tweed are “totally inadequate” and, in a statement sent to him, SEPA admitted that it was not possible to capture all the spilt diesel.

A SEPA officer visited Sprouston Burn after being contacted on December 28 about the incident. According to a spokesperson, oil had overflowed from a tank into a bunded area, designed to contain any leaks. Around 4,000 litres were pumped out of the bunded area, but hundreds of litres still escaped into Sprouston Burn.

When Mr French visited the site on New Year’s Day, he said: “The continuous flow of water coming from the pipe smelt strongly of diesel and was discharging into Sprouston Burn at about 200 yards from where it then flows into the Tweed.

“SEPA advised they had taken remedial action at the depot and down the glen with booms across the burn to collect oil. They said that they had it all in hand, but frankly I was not convinced.”

And further visits to the site on Monday and yesterday resulted in Mr French contacting SEPA again to complain that the booms were not doing their job.

He told us: “The strong diesel smell was still present and an inspection of the booms at the river showed that they were totally inadequate, allowing diesel to flow past them into the Tweed.

“The fixing of the first boom to the bank of the burn was poor, with one end held in position by a log and clearly the booms would be easily washed away with any rise in the burn water level, which is likely with the current weather.”

In a reply to Mr French on Monday, a SEPA statement said: “Due to the difficult water conditions and the rate of flow of the watercourse, it is not possible to capture all the diesel.”

It added: “The leak has been stopped and the spill in the yard has been cleaned up, so there should be no further diesel escaping from the site, however, there may be diesel in the soil and drainage system which may be washed into the watercourse over the next few days.”

The statement added a SEPA clean-up specialist had attended the scene on Hogmanay, Sunday and yesterday. As well as fixed and floating booms, absorbent pads have been used to remove the diesel.

The statement read: “Both the pads and booms are highly absorbent in regards to diesel and these are being regularly replaced and this will continue until there is no longer any trace of diesel in the watercourse.

“The (clear-up) company has walked the length of the burn to locate and clean up pockets of diesel which have been caught within the vegetation. There could be a strong diesel odour present along the watercourse for several days,” it added.

Nick Yonge, of the River Tweed Commission, described reports that diesel was still reaching the Tweed after six days as “concerning” and said on Tuesday that RTC staff may inspect the burn again.

Mr Yonge added: “We have been told by SEPA last week that it was all under control as it is their remit.

“It is not just salmon fishing, but there is also grayling and trout on the St Boswells stretch. It is one of the most fished waters in the Borders.”

St Boswells and Newtown Districts Angling Association chairman John Reed was unaware of the diesel spill, but also said the news was “concerning”.

SEPA claimed it was difficult to gauge the impact of the diesel on the local environment, but added that most had not reached the Tweed.

However, Mr French still fears that the incident may affect the River Tweed’s fish stocks. “It is big business and a big attraction – we need this sorted quickly,” he added.

SEPA declined to release the name of the company responsible for the leak.