The number of farmers convicted of polluting rivers in the Mid Ulster District has risen by almost 200 percent in the past year.
The sharp rise in prosecutions by the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency suggests that Tyrone’s rivers, which were once renowned for their natural beauty and stocked with trout, sticklebacks, and roach, as well as migrating salmon and eels, are being poisoned at an unprecedented scale.
The latest figures from the Department of the Environment reveal that the East and South Tyrone river system is in crisis with some 28 farmers convicted for pollution offences in the last three years, by far the highest number for any district in Northern Ireland.
The next highest number of convictions was in Fermanagh and Omagh, where 15 farmers were charged, while North Down and Ards had no convictions at all.
Last year, 14 local farmers were convicted in court, up from 5 the previous year.
A total of £25,425 in financial penalties was imposed on Dungannon’s farmers, business and land owners, rising from £1,850 in 2009 to a high of £13,250 in 2012.
Clogged with septic tank run-off and choked with agricultural and industrial waste, local water courses have been treated as convenient dumping grounds, devastating fish populations and harming wildlife.
However, as well as the agricultural pollution there have been 18 reported incidents of river pollution linked to fuel laundering in Tyrone, none of which has resulted in a prosecution.
Details of the incidents, which were discovered between 2012 and 2014, have been released by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
A total of 12 incidents have been investigated along rivers in the Cookstown district, three in each of the Dungannon and Omagh areas, while just one report was received in the Strabane district. The Department of Environment have confirmed just one prosecution and one attempted prosecution for water pollution resulting from fuel laundering in the North.
Environmental campaigners said pollution incidents are not being treated with the seriousness they deserve and fines need to increase if they are to be a deterrent.
Meanwhile, the Green Party branded the fines “derisory and clearly ineffective” and called for more robust legislation.
Spokesman Ross Brown said: “Incidents of pollution of the environment in Northern Ireland are not treated with the seriousness they deserve.
“Northern Ireland is the only area in the UK without an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and this is something that the Green Party is calling for.”