Wildlife and environmental charities have received a £1 million boost because Yorkshire Water polluted a North Yorkshire watercourse.

It is a record payout under a system by which those responsible for pollution can make amends, the Environment Agency has said. 

Its investigation revealed that almost 1,500 fish died in a beck near Harrogate and the pollution stretched for more than a mile and a half.  

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust which runs the Askham Bog, Moorlands, Strensall Common and Wheldrake Ings nature reserves among many others gets £500,000 and the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust  £500,000

Yorkshire Water breached its environmental permit with an unauthorised sewage discharge from Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow, which polluted Hookstone Beck near Harrogate  in 2016.

The Environment Agency said the utility company submitted an Enforcement Undertaking – a voluntary offer made by companies or individuals to make amends, proposing the £1 million donation to environmental charities to carry out improvements in the local area.

The agency said it is the largest Enforcement Undertaking it has ever accepted from a company.

Yorkshire Water also completed a £1.85 million sewer network upgrade in the area as part of the enforcement terms.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will use the payment in North Yorkshire for new and improved homes for wildlife, mainly on its wetland reserves, including Ripon City Wetlands and the River Tutt at Staveley Nature Reserve.

Meanwhile, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust will develop a programme of improvements along the River Nidd.

The £1 million payment came after the Environment Agency launched an investigation into a report of pollution in Hookstone Beck in August 2016.

Investigating officers traced it to the overflow at Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow, which has an environmental permit that allows a discharge into the beck when the storm sewage facility is full due to rainfall or snow melt.

But it had become blocked and Yorkshire Water was not alerted due to faulty telemetry equipment.

Meanwhile, a series of further blockages and discharges took place in the following months.

A Yorkshire Water spokesman said: “This incident was initially caused by a plank of wood that shouldn’t have been in the sewer network and took place seven years ago.

“We acted quickly to stop the pollution but understand incidents of this kind are distressing and, when things go wrong, we understand we have a responsibility to make it right and to prevent these things from happening at all.

“Unfortunately, it has taken seven years to reach an agreement with the Environment Agency to donate funds to local wildlife charities that will directly benefit Yorkshire, but we are pleased to have finally provided funds to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.

“We’re committed to protecting the environment and our procedures and processes have evolved significantly since 2016, contributing to a halving of pollution incidents in the last five years.

“Following this incident in 2016, we spent almost £2 million to improve the sewer network in the area to prevent repeat issues.”

Claire Barrow, Environment Agency area environment manager in Yorkshire, said: “We always consider enforcement options on a case-by-case basis, and Enforcement Undertakings allow companies to put right what went wrong and contribute to environmental improvements and outcomes.

“This significant £1 million civil sanction will be invested back into the local area to enhance the environment for people and wildlife.

“The Environment Agency investigation also led to significant improvements to the sewer network in this area to prevent repeat incidents and ensure future compliance with environmental requirements.”

Water minister Robbie Moore said: “This record penalty paid by Yorkshire Water demonstrates that those who damage our natural environment will be held to account.