AN operation is underway to save thousands of fish from dying in the Leigh branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

A pollution incident at Plank Lane, which was reported on Thursday, resulted in the death of around 200 small fish from asphyxiation.

And thousands more are gasping for breath as oxygen levels have reduced to only one per cent of normal levels.

Teams from the Canal and River Trust charity and the Environment Agency attended the site.

A chemical, sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, is being added to the water to raise oxygen levels to safeguard the remaining fish and other aquatic life.

The cause of the pollution is being investigated.

The Canal and River Trust, which cares for 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, will be working closely with Environment Agency fisheries staff to monitor the water quality and condition of the fish over the next few days.

The agencies do not believe there is a risk to people or animals, but as a precaution, the Environment Agency is asking people to stay out of the canal and keep pets away from the water until the investigation is complete.

Canal and River Trust fisheries officer Paul Breslin said: “If anyone has any information that might lead us to identify the cause of this damaging pollution incident, we would like to hear from them.

"Thanks to the fast action of the person who reported the incident to the Environment Agency and our quick-thinking emergency staff, we are hoping to avoid a major disaster for local wildlife.

“It is a pity that potentially thoughtless actions have resulted in our charity having to spend much-needed cash in this way but protecting our waterway wildlife is one of our top priorities.

Canals which provide the best habitats for wildlife are also great places for humans to relax and enjoy the big outdoors too.

“We know from research that people feel happier and healthier by water, so our aim is to continue to protect these special blue spaces for the benefit of everyone.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Our officers went out on site yesterday after receiving reports of fish in distress along a stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal near Leigh.

"It was a serious event, with fish observed in distress along with a number of fatalities.

“Thanks to the fast-acting member of the public who reported the incident to us, our fisheries officers were able to deploy hydrogen peroxide to increase the oxygen levels in the canal.

“An investigation to determine the cause is now underway.

"Our teams, alongside our partners at the Canal and River Trust, are continuing to monitor the situation and take appropriate action.

"Protecting people and the environment is our number one priority and we take any issues of pollution very seriously."

To report environmental incidents in the area contact 0800 807060.

For more information about volunteering or donating to the Canal and River Trust, visit