Alarm at high levels of pollution in the Sumerhill Stream

5 February 2018

Like many people locally, we were alarmed to read in the Times of Tonbridge that the Sumerhill Stream just outside Tonbridge is one of the most polluted watercourses in the country. The stream is reported to contain “chronic quantities of neonicotinoid” pollution which is known to cause harm to bees and other pollinators but is also dangerous to aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddisflies, flies and beetles.

The pollution was highlighted in the recent Buglife report, Neonicotinoid Insecticides in British Freshwaters based on Environment Agency monitoring under the EU 2016 Water Framework Directive Watch List.

Three neoniotinoid toxins of particular concern are Imidacloprid, Clothianidin an Thiamethoxam, which are used in farming and waste water treatment plants.

According to the Times of Tonbridge, the “Sumerhill Stream showed a particularly high amount of one particular toxin, Imidacloprid, which accounted for 99.3 per cent of its insecticide content.” The report continued: “Its contamination of 0.13 micrograms per litre was far more than any other river in the study.”

For many years, greens and environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth have campaigned for a ban on neonicotinoids amid considerable resistance from the agro-chemical industry, parts of the farming community and government. Neonicotinoids were finally banned from use on flowering plants in 2013 across the European Union and further action is expected soon. Defra has finally embraced the need to restrict their use which is a welcome step but it is clear that further action is necessary.

We have written to the Environment Agency in the hope that action to identify the source of the pollution affecting the Sumerhil Stream will ensue but, unfortunately, the reply we received was not encouraging as they indicated that no further action will be taken. We will, of course, follow this up so watch this space for further information.