The Environment Agency is out in force to catch rogue campsite operators harming the environment in pursuit of a fast buck.
Environment Agency inspectors are rushing to ensure every temporary campsite in Cornwall is licensed before next week's eclipse.
The Agency is worried that temporary campsites expected to hold 271,000 visitors will endanger the environment by running water supplies dry or by not having proper storage facilities for chemical toilet waste.
Area environment planning manager Katherine Wright is co-ordinating the handing out of Agency licenses to campsite operators. Operators gain permission from their district council to set up site, and then an Agency inspector visits to ensure that operators can provide the statutory 40 litres a day of water per person from a good source and can dispose of sewage safely.
Each site is required to have storage space for 75 litres of sewage and grey water per person per day. The Agency needs to ensure that sewage is stored in sealed slurry tanks, usually used for holding dung; flexible storage bags known as pillow tanks; or specially lined lagoons far enough from the site to keep the smell away. For sites treating their own sewage, facilities need to be passed before 'discharge consent' into water courses is given. The Agency will allow up to 5m3 of untreated sewage to be buried if it is well away from wells or boreholes and in an area at low risk of flooding.
Wright says: 'We will be using our statutory powers to ensure the risk of pollution is kept to a minimum. We will be relying on members of the public for most of the information we get about rogue operators.' If operators are caught discharging untreated sewage into a river, fines in a magistrates court could top £20,000 plus costs and in a Crown Court the fine would be unlimited, says Wright.
Sites close to rivers will also be scrutinised for flood risk. 'Evacuation from temporary campsites could be a particular problem because of the limited access. We have carried out our own assessment of flood risk on particular sites and given guidance to site operators on how to prepare.'
Campsite operators in Cornwall have claimed that in its determination to strictly enforce law, the Agency has been unduly harsh. Many predict that campsites will operate unofficially because of the strict rules being invoked. 'This is a very special one off situation which calls for some degree of pragmatic relaxation,' said one dissenting voice at Cornwall County Council. 'The Environment Agency should be providing more of a public service to help people get set up. A lot of campsites will operate unofficially.'
Wright responds to the criticism: 'We have clear legislation to perform to and we have to use our powers to protect the environment. We don't want to see long term damage.' DA