A blog looking at how boaters can help prevent the waterways from being polluted by oil, and what to do if you see what appears to be an oil or fuel spill.
All our waterways are vulnerable to pollution, from small, accidental spills to major problems causing significant environmental damage. Around 300 pollution incidents are reported to us every year, and can cost anything from £50 to £50,000 each to resolve.
Fortunately, major incidents such as the shocking quantities of oil poured into a surface drain connected to Pymmes Brook that ran into the River Lee early in 2018 are not common. However there are many more smaller incidents which can be equally damaging to the environment. Most of these incidents are preventable. Whilst boaters were not the cause of the 2018 River Lee incident, they had a vital role in reporting and helping to clean up the damage.
Our priorities as boaters should be to prevent creating any pollution, by keeping our boat’s fuel and oil out of the water. Both are toxic to fish and other aquatic life; even small quantities can cause lasting problems for wildlife.
We really appreciate boaters being our eyes and ears. With such a large network of canals and rivers we can’t be everywhere all of the time, so you’re a great help by spotting anything wrong on the waterways.
Water pollution incidents are categorised 1 to 4 according to their impact on the environment, people and/or property. They're both an environment and health & safety hazard and require a correct and timely response appropriate to the amount of pollution observed. Further details of how incidents are categorised can be found on pages 38 and 39 of this document.
We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environment Agency (EA) when it comes to dealing with pollution incidents. Our policy is to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the waterway and protection of the environment, whilst maintaining compliance with relevant legislation, and maximising opportunities for cost recovery.
A major or significant category 1 or 2 spill will see the EA lead on the investigation and remediation of the pollution. We assist the EA in managing the incident and cleaning up. In a minor category 3 or 4 incident, for instance where someone has pumped out oily bilge water, we are in charge of the response. The simple rule of thumb is that if it’s a big incident, the EA are in charge, if it’s small then we are.
So, what should you do if you spot a spill and how will we deal with it?
Cleaning up after a spill
When you call us, we’re going to need the following information:
If it looks like a serious problem or emergency, call the EA Incident Hotline on 0800 807060 at any time of day or night. If it’s out of office hours and it looks urgent you can also call our out of hours emergency number 0800 47 999 47. Please be aware that we will make a judgement based on the severity of the incident and it is not always appropriate for an on-duty staff member to respond directly to you.
Anything other than major please call 03030 404040 during normal working hours or report via our website.
We do not have staff trained to handle animals that have been affected by pollution but work alongside partners who are. If you see an animal in distress do report it to the RSPCA or in the case of swans, to a specialist swan rescue organisation if there's one in your area.
Last date edited: 16 March 2021
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