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Campaigners to take Environment Agency to court for allegedly failing to protect River Wye

23 Oct 2023 2 minute read
The River Wye

Gavin McEwan, local democracy reporter

Environmental campaigners are set to take the Government’s Environment Agency to court for allegedly failing to protect the River Wye.

River Action sought permission back in March for what is known as judicial review, which determines whether a public body has failed to follow its own rules.

The charity claimed at the time that the Environment Agency had failed to enforce its own rules that would have protected the river from pollution from farming, particularly the spreading of manure from surrounding poultry farms.

Harmful fertilisers 

It has now been granted this following a High Court hearing last Thursday (19 October). The court will now look at how far the agency enforced rules governing the spreading of organic manure and artificial fertiliser on farmland in the river catchment.

Over-use of manure and fertilisers can lead to run-off into water courses, leading to so-called algal blooms which turn the water a murky green and harm its plant and animal life.

Around two thirds of the phosphorus – the nutrient causing the most harm to the Wye – comes from farming, according to a recent study by Lancaster University.

River Action claims much of this could have been prevented if the EA had enforced locally the so-called Farming Rules for Water, which prohibit spreading fertilisers and manures on already nutrient-saturated soils.

River Action UK Chairman Charles Watson

Its chairman and founder Charles Watson said: “We will now vigorously make the case that a prime cause for the recent ecological collapse of the river Wye is the EA’s decision to slavishly follow DEFRA’s guidance to not enforce critical provisions of the 2018 Farming Rules for Water.”

This has led to what he called “horrific environmental consequences for the river Wye that are plain to see”.

River Action is represented by law firm Leigh Day, whose environment team solicitor Ricardo Gama claimed that the EA had told its field officers to ignore breaches of the rules, and to not even tell land managers that breaches had been found.

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