An anonymous pesticide amnesty organised by South East Water has enabled the safe removal of over a tonne of unused and out of date pesticides from farms in Kent. If stored or disposed of incorrectly, pesticides can pose a significant environmental risk, potentially contaminating water supplies.

In the case that these chemicals were accidentally released into the environment and water quality was affected, the water company would either have to undertake an expensive decontamination treatment or even close the drinking water source.

In January, the Blueprint for Water coalition ranked South East Water as the top water-only company in terms of the environmental ambition in its PR19 business plans. But overall the company was placed in the “slow track” category when Ofwat published its initial assessment of water companies’ plans.

Between October and November 2018, South East Water, supported by Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF), offered the amnesty in its River Teise surface water catchment area, and the Pembury and Hartlake groundwater catchments, hoping to facilitate the anonymous safe disposal of pesticides from farmers and land managers.

Over the two months, more than a tonne of agricultural chemicals were collected from 23 farms across the three catchments. A total of 901kg of these were pesticides or other agricultural substances, 57kg of which were no longer approved for UK use.

South East Water’s national environment programme RSA investigations and groundwater catchment management lead, Debbie Wilkinson, said: “We’re delighted with the success of this pesticide amnesty.

“Although we successfully remove chemicals from raw water before it’s put into supply, it’s a much more sustainable and cost-effective solution to work with farmers to reduce the chances of pesticides entering our water resources in the first place.”

James Woodward, CSF officer, added: “We understand that pesticides are essential in modern farming and we know that farmers in Kent are keen to do all they can to store and use them responsibly and correctly. By helping farmers to safely dispose of these chemicals once they are redundant, we’re ensuring they won’t ever find their way into watercourses which could affect drinking water quality, or cause damage to the environment.

“We work closely with the farming community to raise awareness of the risks to the environment and encourage people to carefully check sheds and outbuildings for out-of-date or illegal stocks of chemicals.”

This campaign follows on from a similar amnesty ran by South East Water in the River Lodden surface water catchment in 2017. Here, with help from Affinity Water and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, over 980kg of agricultural chemicals were recovered from 20 farms.

South East Water recently signed a full narrowband internet of things commercial agreement with Vodafone UK as part of a digital water meter trial to help which could help “revolutionise” the way the water industry detects and prevents leaks.

The water company will use the partnership to transmit data for analysis from digital water meters at 2,000 homes in the trial area, as well as information from other network sensors.

The trial has brought together nine specialist companies in their respective fields to test the latest “cutting edge” digital water meters, sensors, advanced analytics and telecommunications channels.