Pollution in woods still a problem, says group

editorial image

The waterways through the Gala Policies community woodland in Galashiels appear to be returning to normal after a pollution scare.

However, the dangers of raw sewage entering the water system are being played down by authorities, according to Jason Curran, chairman of the Friends of Gala Policies group.

The outlet from which raw sewage entered the burn in Gala Policies.

The outlet from which raw sewage entered the burn in Gala Policies.

Though Scottish Water says no further action is required, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency insists there was no long-lasting environmental impact on the Mossilee Burn, Mr Curran is certain that it is an ongoing problem.

He said: “While this was happening, I was cleaning the burn of logs and rubbish, and it smelled foul. Although I was wearing rubber gloves and wellingtons and was very careful, I was ill for two days after it.

“And I have spoken to dog walkers who said their dogs have been poorly after being in the burn.

“After that, I warned all dog-walkers I knew not to let their pets go in the burn until the pollution had cleared.”

The Southern first became aware of the problem when Mr Curran told us in May that the duck pond within the woodland was completely devoid of wildlife, and that raw sewage had been seen coming into the Mossilee Burn from the outlet at the Balmoral Avenue side.

We got in touch with Scottish Water, who said they had been
 contacted on the day of our visit and were looking into it, but we were told that for some reason, we had to go through the Freedom of Information process to find out what they found.

Scottish Water came back to us on June 12, with the redacted debrief of the inspection, which stated: “Checked surface water/dual system where it meets the burn in the woods, no evidence of sewage in burn, surface water that was running was clean, no residual in outlet pipe or burn, no plume evident no solids or sanitary products at time of visit.”

However, at the end of the month, we heard about problems with a sewage pipe in Balmoral Primary School, which is situated just across the road from the outlet in Balmoral Avenue.

We asked Scottish Water about the FoI reply, and asked if the pond had been checked, mentioning the problem at the school.

It’s spokesman reiterated that the operatives checked the outlet pipe on 17 May and found no evidence of sewage in the pipe or burn, and the surface water was running clean, adding: “Scottish Water has received no further reports of issues in the area.”

However, this week, Scottish Borders Council confirmed that there was, indeed, a blockage in the sewer pipe leading from the school.

A council spokesman told us: “There was a blockage a couple of months back and we had to get a jetting company in to clear it, but that was pretty straightforward.”

And, with this new information, SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) was able to come to the heart of the matter.

A SEPA spokesman told us: “SEPA is aware of a sewage pollution incident which affected the Mossilee Burn in May, following a blockage in the drainage network at Balmoral School in Galashiels.

“Notification of the incident was received from Scottish Water, who carried out a clean-up of the burn, while it is understood that the local authority arranged for the blockage to be cleared.

“Based on the scale of the incident reported by Scottish Water, SEPA officers are satisfied that the pollution incident was localised and will not have any long lasting environmental impact on the Mossilee Burn.”

On Tuesday, Scottish Water explained the confusion, saying that because the job was marked as a private choke in the system, it was not flagged to them at the time of our initial query.

Its new statement said: “We received a call on 31 May of a private choke at Balmoral Primary School.

“Our operatives attended as a courtesy and cleared the burn of a small number of wipes (6). The school then arranged for the blockage to be cleared.

“We contacted SEPA as a matter of course and no further action was required.”

However, Mr Curran said: “All it will take is for one nappy to be flushed and the system will be blocked again.

“I will be happy to walk around the site with anyone from Scottish Water, as I believe they need to upgrade the sewage system.

“The sewage network here was built for the needs of people in the 1950s, with the overflow sewage coming into the burn in the event of a blockage.

“This is not acceptable in this day and age, and it can’t go on.”