28 April 1995

Farmer claims land and stock poisoned by abandoned mine

A DURHAM farmer claims his land and stock have been poisoned by water coming from an abandoned mineshaft.

About 909,200 litres (200,000 gal) a day flow from a 28in (61cm) pipe on to Brusselton Farm, Bishop Aukland, said its owner Peter Raine. Mine water has turned a farm track into a stream which runs through 6ha (15 acres) before entering the river Gaunless.

Mr Raine said that his land absorbs impurities from the mine water. "My vet has advised against using the affected land. And 35 of our Limousin beef cattle have died after grazing the land," he claimed.

Liability not admitted

But no one will admit liability for the mine shaft abandoned in 1979. The National Rivers Authority has said that the water is not toxic. Last year British Coal denied responsibility for the mine water.

British Coal chairman Neil Clarke attributed the problem to "exceptionally high seasonal rainfall". But Durham County Council and the NRA agree that the water is from old mine workings. Flow from the pipe was measured at 909,200 litres a day by the University of Newcastle.

Mr Raine blamed British Coal for adopting a "couldnt care less" attitude. "They played for time pending privatisation when the problem would be passed on to the Coal Authority," he said.

His predicament is now being studied by the Coal Authority. Its property and environmental manager Keith Parker admitted the question of liability was complex. "In the 1960s there was discharge from a shaft which the defunct property management company English Estates bought from the National Coal Board. They diverted the water through the pipe which runs on to Mr Raines land."

But water samples indicate that the mine water is not polluting and that iron levels are low at about 3-4 parts per million, said Mr Parker. "We have looked at the problem and will form our own conclusions as soon as possible," he said. Mr Raine is hoping that a Royal Commission report on pollution later this year will establish liability. &#42

Peter Raine points to the stream he believes is contaminated with water from an abandoned mine.