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River campaigner Tony joins the Angling Trust’s fight against pollution
A pioneer in the fight for clean rivers is backing the Angling Trust’s water quality project 30 years after helping to take on a privatised water company to win a major pollution case.
Tony Locker from the Leek & District Fly Fishing Association has joined the Angling Trust’s Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) which has been set up to enable anglers and clubs to better understand pollution issues on their own waters.
Since launching as a pilot on the River Severn in May, more than 200 volunteers from over 100 clubs have signed up with the Trust to take and test water samples using equipment supplied through the scheme.
But for 70 year-old Tony, analysing water quality is nothing new.
When he took up fly fishing over 50 years ago, caring for the environment and having clean rivers was just as important to him as catching fish.
Along with other Leek & District FFA members he regularly fished the River Churnet in Staffordshire – a stretch of water the club had held since 1973. But by the late 1980s, pollution of the Churnet resulted in members reporting little or no fish activity.
Tony began recording temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and water quality and spent hundreds of hours sifting through the Treatment Plant Consent of Discharges Licences and Control of Pollution Registers for the water treatment plants that discharged into the Churnet.
What Tony found was not good, with over 300 breaches of discharge consent limits.
Between 1986 and 1992, Tony tirelessly worked with the Anglers’ Cooperative Association (ACA), now Fish Legal, to build a case against the now privatised operator of the treatment works, Severn Trent Water.
In 1992, Severn Trent Water accepted full liability, agreed to address all issues, and pay all costs and compensations. It was a huge triumph for Tony, the ACA and Leek & District FFA – the first angling association to successfully sue a water company after privatisation.
In addition to undisclosed damages and costs, Severn Trent spent millions building a new ozone plant at the Leekbrook sewage treatment works, upgrading all the other water treatment plants on the river Churnet and carrying out a river restoration programme.
“I joined LDFFA because of my interest in caring for the ecology and our rights to fish clean waters. It was this commitment that resulted in our little association winning the first ever case against a newly privatised water company with the help of the ACA.
“Fifty years later, I have retired from active service with LDFFA but still have strong links as a trustee and honorary member. 2020 was a year that Covid impacted the whole country and focused my attention on many aspects of the Environment Agency and its failure to police the water companies. I have long held the belief that the EA is not fit for purpose, Feargal Sharkey was making news regarding river pollution, and the media were reporting on the huge problems with the water companies and over 400,000 illegal discharges into our waterways and estuaries in a single year. The fire was lit in my belly to challenge the industry giants and the so-called protective watchdog once again.”
Following an approach to the Angling Trust, Tony and the Leek & District FFA are now registered to take part in the project.
Tony added: “We are ready to proceed having just received our kits sufficient for six sites on five rivers across Staffordshire and Derbyshire.”
The WQMN was launched in May as part of the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign. Test findings will help the Angling Trust hold the government to account, ensuring it lives up to its rhetoric on improving our environment and meeting its own legal responsibilities, and support local initiatives to improve our rivers.
Kris Kent, Angling Trust Campaigns & Advocacy Manager who leads on the WQMN project, said:
“The response to the Water Quality Monitoring Network project has been fantastic from clubs all over the country. Anglers are often the unsung heroes protecting our rivers from the ravages of pollution. Tony Locker is a wonderful example of one of those unsung heroes.”
The WQMN initiative is supported financially by Orvis UK and APTUS tackle and the “Big Yellow Boxes” are supplied by Flambeau Outdoors. If your club would like to get involved, please contact [email protected]