A STREAM stained orange by pollution from old ironstone mines in Saltburn is finally being cleaned up thanks to a multi-million-pound scheme.

Saltburn Gill, which runs through the Valley Gardens down to the beach, changed colour overnight in May 1999 when it was polluted from a nearby mine that closed in the 1960s.

The pollution had a devastating effect on river life, depositing large amounts of iron oxide on the river bed and banks, up to the point where it meets the Skelton Beck above Saltburn beach.

The Gill was once a haven for Kingfishers and otters and runs through a site of Special Scientific Interest.

The Environment Agency has been working with the Coal Authority and the Saltburn Gill Action Group to design a pollution treatment scheme and turn the beck back into a high quality coastal stream.

Work starts today (MONDAY DECEMBER 10) on the scheme, which will take five months to complete.

More than £700,000 has been spent so far and a further £2m is earmarked to clean up the beck.

The cash comes from a £10.5m Defra fund to combat problems caused by abandoned metal mines across England.

Dominic Shepherd, regional water quality manager for the Environment Agency, said: “The mine water will be treated to a high quality which will allow the stream to regenerate, bringing life back to the once-dead waters.

“The work will be carried out in two phases. First, water will be pumped from the old mine workings until the current discharges dry up, which could take a year. When the pumping has stabilised the groundwater levels, a treatment scheme will be constructed.”

The new scheme will filter iron from the mine water before it enters the stream by using a series of ponds. The Coal Authority uses the tried-and-tested method at more than 60 treatment schemes around Britain.

Dr Simon Reed, director of operations for the Coal Authority, said: “We, together with our contractors and consultants, will bring our extensive experience in designing, building and operating mine water treatment schemes to bring very real environmental improvements to the community at Saltburn.”

Jim Wingham, chair of Saltburn Gill Action Group, said: “This represents a massive achievement for local people after eight years of working in partnership with all of the other bodies concerned to find a remedy for the pollution of Saltburn Gill. It represents a triumph for localism in its very best sense.”

The scheme is being built and operated by the Coal Authority under a permit issued by the Environment Agency.