By Debbie James

A sheep farmer who says he has incurred losses of £32,000 as a result of raw sewage repeatedly contaminating pasture grazed by his flock is appealing to Welsh Water to take remedial action to prevent further spillages.

Richard Lee has a Farm Business Tenancy on 86 acres of National Trust land on the Southwood Estate at Newgale.

He has been locked in a battle with Welsh Water since December 2019 when raw sewage first flooded onto his land from the main sewer pipe than runs between Roch and the treatment works at Newgale.

A flock of 470 pregnant ewes were grazing that land and a significant number of those developed a serious eye infection.

Swabs taken by Mr Lee’s vet revealed they had a bacterial infection which he directly linked to organisms in the sewage.

Despite treatment, it took the ewes over three months to recover and, as a result, the flock’s lambing percentage plummeted to 117 per cent from a five-year average of 182 per cent. Many of the ewes have been left with permanent scarring and several have lost their sight completely.

Mr Lee, whose main holding is at Rhosfach, Clynderwen, says the leaks occur when Welsh Water is pumping up into the main sewer from Nolton Haven.

“Welsh Water are constantly fobbing me off and saying there is nothing that they can do every time I report it.’’

He wants the company to lay a new pipe to bypass the point where the leak occurs.

A compensation claim for £32,000 to cover loss of production, veterinary costs and loss of grazing was submitted to Welsh Water but its insurers claim that the company is not to blame.

“They basically said that they are not in control of what people put down their toilets and that they are innocent of blame,’’ says Mr Lee.

He is continuing to pursue Welsh Water through his solicitor but his legal bills are mounting up.

Mr Lee points out that farmers are prosecuted if they pollute watercourses. “The heavy hand of the law comes down on them but Welsh Water seems to be immune from prosecution,’’ he says.

After numerous contamination episodes in 2020, including five since September, Mr Lee met a Welsh Water engineer on site in November.

“There was a spill on the Sunday and he came on the Monday, he couldn’t see the leak happening but he could see the evidence from the previous day.

“He put a camera down the sewer and acknowledged that there was definitely a problem.’’

Mr Lee asked Welsh Water for advice on how long stock should be kept off pasture when it has been contaminated by raw sewerage.

“I was told that it would be fine after 10 days but when treated raw sewerage is supplied to farms to spread on the land as a fertiliser the guidance is to keep stock off for a minimum of three weeks,’’ he points out.

Mr Lee says the spillages are an obvious health hazard and also make working conditions unpleasant.

“When I put the dogs back in the pick-up and turn the heaters on I am soon reminded what they have on their feet.’’

And he is carrying it on the wheels of his pick-up too.

“I have to drive through the field where the spillages occur to get to the rest of the land, there is no way I can bypass it,’’ said Mr Lee.

A statement from Welsh Water confirmed that it was aware of “an operational issue’’ on the public sewer in the Newgale area.

It said it would be carrying out investigations into the cause over the Christmas period.

“Once we have completed our investigations, we will take necessary action to resolve the matter and will keep the landowner informed,’’ said a spokesperson.

“We are of course very sorry for the inconvenience caused and thank those affected for their patience.”