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Photography exhibition reveals the human faces of farming at Hay Festival

24 May 2024 5 minute read
Jesse Jarman. Image: Compassion in World Farming

A moving photography exhibition is set to take place at this year’s Hay Festival, highlighting the human impacts of factory farming – with a special focus on the ‘devastating’ effects felt locally and in the River Wye.

Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the River Wye have joined forces to highlight issues caused by factory farming and to showcase farmers in the Wye catchment who are committed to working with nature.

The images displayed in a thought-provoking exhibition at Hay Festival illustrate the people whose lives have been devastated by factory farming – and the British farmers pioneering a more nature-friendly future.

Severe impacts

Compassion has commissioned leading photographers to capture the portraits of people severely impacted by industrial animal farming.

These stories stretch from the UK to Europe, Brazil, and the USA. They show how the lives, health, and wellbeing of people living close to factory farms are devastated.

In South America, they show how deforestation to grow food for farmed animals is leading to community breakdown and even death threats.

In the UK over a billion animals – 85% of all UK farmed animals – are confined in factory farms every year. But factory farming isn’t just the world’s biggest cause of animal cruelty.

It’s a primary driver of wildlife declines, a serious pollutant, contributes to climate change and marine dead zones, and is a potent source of disease that risks future pandemics.

Philip Lymbery, Compassion’s Global CEO, said: “This exhibition highlights the urgent need for change but also showcases solutions.

“Ending factory farming will bring better lives to billions of farm animals across the globe, save wildlife from extinction, improve our health, and leave a planet fit for future generations.”


Richard Dunwoody MBE, one of the exhibition photographers, added: “Everyone I photographed were clearly traumatised as a result of the intensive farming of animals in their communities.

“Although spending only a short time with the subjects, I quickly understood just how badly their lives and environments had been impacted by factory farms.

“No one should have to endure the upset, distress, and torment that they were clearly facing on a daily basis.”

Dale & Chloe. Image: Eamon Bourke

Kate, an artist who featured in the exhibition, said: “I’ve had to move twice because of factory farming in Powys, and it’s been devastating.

“My dreams of finally having a home were ruined by the constant noise, smell and traffic, and the animal cruelty made me feel sick – I didn’t want to live next door to a factory, it was nearer me than the farmer.”

Agriculture is the number one source of river pollution in the UK and is responsible for over 72% of the phosphate entering the River Wye , which flows through England and Wales.

The river is suffering from algal blooms and poor water quality, partly caused by intensive poultry production in the region. More than twenty million chickens, alongside other animals in the catchment, produce more manure than the surrounding land can absorb, with the excess entering watercourses.

Polluted water is just one symptom of a farming system that is out of balance with its environment.

Change needed

Tom Tibbits, Chair of Friends of the River Wye, said: “We’ve concentrated too many animals in one area. The science tells us that the majority of the phosphorus imported into the Wye catchment comes in the form of animal feed.

“Whilst we exist to protect the River Wye, our actions impact on other precious habitats too, like the Cerrado in Brazil which is being destroyed to grow soya for intensively-farmed animals.

The Government’s new River Wye Action Plan proposes to deal with the manure mountain by installing incinerators throughout the catchment, but this does nothing to reduce the feed we’re importing from abroad. The only sustainable solution to this problem is to reduce the number of chickens we farm.”

Ben. Image: Eamon Bourke

Friends of the River Wye has taken portrait photographs of farmers in the Wye catchment who are farming with greater sensitivity to the natural world.

Farmers featured in the exhibition champion rotational grazing, cover crops, agroforestry, reducing chemical and nutrient inputs, and the importance of soil.

Ultimately, farmers are on the frontline of our climate and biodiversity crises. They need their land to be resilient to floods and drought, just as they need pollinators and healthy soils to produce good food to feed us all.


Eamon Bourke, a trustee of Friends of the River Wye, who photographed the famers for this exhibition said: “I was very inspired by meeting farmers throughout the Wye catchment doing innovative and experimental things to produce food whilst taking care of the land and rivers and adapting to climate change.

“I hope these images carry some of that inspiration. Farmers working with nature and leading the change is where hope lies for the Wye.”

The exhibition also launches a new Manifesto for the Wye, co-created by Friends of the River Wye alongside Save The Wye and other local river guardians, outlining the actions needed to restore the river.

It calls on the Governments of the UK and Wales to establish a single, cross-border approach to tackling the pollution crisis across the Wye catchment.

It also demands the establishment of a Water Protection Zone and enforcement action against polluters.

Compassion has launched a petition calling on world leaders to transform the global food system and end factory farming – for the sake of animals, people, and the planet. Take action to End.It.

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