‘Lethal’ algal bloom warning issued for river Wye as temperatures soar
Gavin McEwan, local democracy reporter
The river Wye could see another lethal “algal bloom” because of the hot weather and lack of rain, the UK Government’s Environment Agency has warned.
The agency’s River Wye Early Warning System gave an “amber” alert earlier this week, after the river’s temperature passed 20C.
It called for a halt to salmon and trout fishing on the river – including catch-and-release, because fish would already be stressed.
The Wye is a designated special area of conservation and an important salmon fishery, but in recent years “has experienced episodes of excessively high summer water temperatures which is associated with increased algal blooms”, the EA said.
These can block sunlight from reaching water plants, and use up oxygen in the water, which can suffocate fish.
“We recognise that nutrient levels, such as those from agricultural pollution, increase the chances of algae developing,” the agency’s warning added.
But Charles Watson, founder and chair of pressure group River Action, tweeted in response: “The tons of phosphate-laden sediment washed in each year from the valley’s 100s of intensive poultry units coming home to roost.
“Shame our environmental protection agencies didn’t object to them being built in the first place.”
.@EnvAgency issues warning of algal blooms on River Wye
The tons of phosphate laden sediment washed in each year from the valley’s 100s of intensive 🐓units coming home to roost
Shame our environmental protection agencies didn’t object to them being built in the first place 😡😡 pic.twitter.com/rfo4qFJjXj
— charles watson (@watsonchas) July 13, 2022
Concern about pollution in the Wye – which starts its journey at Plynlimon in mid Wales, snakes into England then forms the border between England and Wales before reaching the Severn Estuary – has been mounting over recent years.
A Natural Resources Wales (NRW) study last year found more than 60 per cent of the Wye and its catchments fail against targets for phosphate levels, which triggers excessive growth of algae.
However, in June, NRW claimed there is no evidence the condition of the River Wye is worsening due to the proliferation of intensive poultry units in the catchment, according to a pressure group campaigning against pollution in the river.
Pressure group, Fish Legal, formerly the Anglers’ Conservation Association, says it has been told by NRW that the agency is under no obligation to act due to the lack of evidence.
According to NRW, which based its conclusions on 2009-2015 data, only one river within the Wye catchment, the Afon Chwefru in Wales, has been identified as potentially deteriorating.
NRW’s head of mid-Wales operations Gavin Bown said: “The factors contributing to pollution in the Wye catchment are complex with a range of different sources contributing to phosphate levels in the river system.
Earlier this year, evidence gathered for a House of Commons committee report saw both Powys Council and Natural Resources Wales criticised for not doing enough to keep the River Wye clean.
The problem of phosphate pollution from farming entering the Wye was addressed in the Environmental Audit Committee’s Water Quality in Rivers report which was published in January.
The leader of Herefordshire Council David Hitchiner told the committee that neither Natural England nor the Environment Agency “have been forthcoming with a solution”, while Natural Resources Wales “has been even less effective in Wales, if this is possible”.
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