Cambridgeshire company fined over £7000 for abstraction crime

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Dennis (Haddenham) Limited, based at Willow Farm Hall, Hillrow Causeway, Haddenham, Ely, repeatedly broke the law by abstracting water for its potato crop.

The illegal abstractions happened when restrictions were in place following months of extremely dry weather.

They occurred at a number of locations in Waterbeach and Ramsey Heights between 29 June and 20 July 2018. Another was also observed in July 2019 at Ramsey St Mary’s.

The company repeated the crime less than a year later, illegally abstracting more water despite knowing they were already under investigation for the previous occasions.

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 1 occasion, the company illegally took more than 5 million litres of water, enough to fill 2 Olympic sized swimming pools.

On another visit, an Environment Agency officer said a pump was running for 8 hours because no one from the company could attend to turn it off.

Nearly a month later, when a total ban on abstraction was in place, another visiting officer observed badly connected abstraction pipes ‘gushing’ with wasted water.

Despite leaving a warning notice on the company’s equipment and providing advice and guidance, the company continued their ‘reckless’ actions.

In total, officers from the Environment Agency and the internal drainage board witnessed the illegal abstractions no less than 6 times. Each time, the company either had no licence to abstract, or broke the conditions of their licence by abstracting when restrictions were in force.

In a formal interview, a representative of the company admitted to the offences but claimed they didn’t understand the terms of the licences they were using.

The court heard that any farmer should have predicted the potential for restrictions on water use, given the dry conditions. Yet the company still failed to check what restrictions were in place, even though the simple, straight-forward instructions for doing so were within the licence.The company admitted they had not properly reviewed the licence.

During the hearing the defence expressed their remorse and said that the company have now amended their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with their licences.

Andrew Raine, Environment Manager from the Environment Agency said:

It’s our job as a regulator to manage when, where and how much water is taken from our rivers, which we do through our abstraction licencing system.

The evidence shows this company recklessly and repeatedly flouted the rules. Disadvantaging fellow farmers by selfishly taking more water than they were allowed, and also putting the delicate ecosystems of our rivers at risk.

We recognise that farmers face a challenge in balancing their needs with those of the environment. We will always work with those who want to do the right thing, but we will also take action against those who don’t.

We all have a duty to do the right thing for the environment and we hope this case serves as a warning to those who would ignore this responsibility.

Over-abstraction can deplete a river’s natural flow and even have an impact on groundwater levels. Protecting these levels is essential for a healthy ecology that is naturally resilient to drought and is safe for people to enjoy for recreation and wellbeing.

Farmers, businesses and industry can get advice and guidance from the Environment Agency on abstraction and how to use water wisely by calling 03708 506 506 or emailing

Dennis (Haddenham) Limited received a fine of £4,000, costs of £3,680 and a victim surcharge of £181. The Court took into consideration the effect covid-19 has had on the business and their turnover.

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