BMW Dealer Pays The Price For River Wye Oil Spill

The owner of a BMW dealership in High Wycombe was ordered to pay just under £40,000 recently, following a pollution incident in April 2011. The incident, which saw oil enter the River Wye, killed 12 wildfowl, including several ducklings and affected a 7km stretch of the river.

Sytner Limited, which owns a BMW dealership in High Wycombe, pleaded guilty at Aylesbury Magistrates Court to the offence. The company was fined £27,000, ordered to pay costs of £12,711.54 and a victim surcharge of £15, a total of £39,726.54 – equivalent to the cost of a brand new BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo.

The court heard that failure to maintain and clear an oil interceptor at the dealership, led to an oily substance entering and polluting the River Wye from London Road, from Loudwater to Wooburn. Oil interceptors are designed to intercept rainwater or spills contaminated with oils such as diesel, lubricants and heating oil, and must be regularly inspected and serviced. The discharge, which started on April 3, 2011 and continued for some 12 hours, had a significant impact on the river and wildlife living in the surrounding environment.

Twelve birds were reported killed by the pollution, including six ducklings. Fourteen more birds were caught and treated by local wildlife charities, including a pair of breeding swans that had to be removed from their nest.

Marie De Viell, Environment Agency Solicitor, told the court that investigations carried out by officers from the Environment Agency and Thames Water, traced the source of the pollution to manholes within the BMW dealer’s site and to an oil interceptor – a device designed to separate oil from water as it enters the drainage system enabling oil to be safely disposed of. The interceptor had not been emptied and had overflowed, causing the oil to enter the river.

The court heard that employees of Sytner had been unaware of the oil interceptor’s existence on the site and it had therefore not been emptied, cleaned or maintained. When Environment Agency officers inspected the interceptor they found that both sides were covered in an oily substance, one side with a black and ‘gloopy’ substance; the other with an iridescent substance. The investigations found no evidence of oil pollution coming from upstream or outside of the car dealership.

Assisted by Thames Water, the Environment Agency deployed booms in the River Wye to contain the oil; road tankers were brought onto site to empty the affected manhole chambers. Contractors were also brought on site to jet and clear the drainage system beneath the site.

Environment Agency officers also witnessed employees of the BMW dealership emptying their cleaning buckets containing disinfectants directly into the drainage system, indicating a general lack of training and supervision of staff.

Throughout the incident, volunteers from Swan Lifeline, RSPCA and Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital patrolled the affected stretch of the river looking for and attempting to rescue oiled birds. Wildlife such as ducks are vulnerable to oil which can coat feathers and lead to a loss of waterproofing. The oil can also be ingested as the bird attempts to clean itself. Ducklings are particularly vulnerable, since they can’t be treated with the charcoal needed to clear their internal systems.

Environment Agency Officer Claire Bale said: “We expect all companies to comply with regulations and act within the terms of any permits granted to them in order to minimise environmental risk. Had Sytner Ltd done so the pollution and resultant prosecution could have been avoided. We are always available to provide free advice regarding pollution prevention and environmental responsibilities.”

In handing down their judgement, the Magistrates took particular account of the fact that the company had failed to be aware of the manhole interceptor that was the source of the pollution; that there was a lot of damage to the wildlife; that there was an extensive clean up and that the company was negligent.

They also factored in that the offence had not been deliberate and the company, which had no previous convictions, had co-operated with the investigation and subsequently had put in place processes to ensure this type of incident does not occur again.