River Wye ‘on life support machine’ after 60% fails phosphorus pollution test
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
“Actions must follow words” to reduce pollution in the River Wye before it is too late, councillors have said, amid warnings that the river was now on a “life support machine”.
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.
A month-long campaign recently culminated in a protest outside the Senedd.
A Natural Resources Wales (NRW) study found more than 60 per cent of the Wye and its catchments fail against targets for phosphate levels.
Phosphorus pollution causes excessive growth of algae, which smothers and blocks out light for other aquatic plants and animals.
Matthew Price, of the National Farmers’ Union, said the Environment Agency has written to all commercial poultry units in the catchment area on the English side of the Wye, to ensure regulations are followed.
Mr Price said it is accepted some of the phosphates in the Wye are of “agricultural origin”, but he said it is “a complex issue”.
“Agriculture has to come to the table which I think it is doing,” Mr Price said. “This is very high on lots of agendas.”
‘Life support machine’
Members of the Wye Valley AONB Joint Advisory Committee – which includes councillors from Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, Forest of Dean and Gloucestershire councils – voiced concern over the issue at a meeting on Monday.
Cllr Yolande Watson said the committee should write a letter to the agencies and councils involved to ensure “actions follow words”.
Cllr Watson said the river is “an icon for local people, for tourists and for visitors”.
“In New Zealand I would be putting forward legislation to make it a person – which has been done in New Zealand – to give it the same rights as a human being, because if it was it would be on a life support machine, having been poisoned with 15 years of legacy phosphates in its veins,” she said.
Cllr Chris McFarling said “a sense of urgency” was needed over the issue.
He said it was important to monitor pollution in the river, as well as interventions being taken to understand their effectiveness.
“I am frightened for the future of our wildlife and our AONB,” he said. “If the River Wye dies then it really is a sad indictment of the way we have managed it, or not managed it.”
Campaign groups have linked the high phosphate levels with run-off from poultry farms. NRW has said phosphate pollution can occur from various sources.
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In west Wales there has been a huge decline of fish populations in our rivers since the intensification of agriculture from the 1980’s onwards. Its incredibly sad to see once great rivers now practically devoid of life. Yet up and down the catchment I see slurry / hyperchloride mix running from milking parlours into streams and ditches … and NRW so starved of resources that enforcement is near zero.
Farmers need serious financial help to get them onto a sustainable path ASAP.
Spot on Dafydd. Farmers don’t need beating over the head with a stick on this issue – they need help to tackle this problem, and government on both sides of the Wye need to step up.
It’s so much easier to attack single farmers than to try and hold multi million pound water companies to account for the 1000’s of litres of raw sewerage they pump directly into our rivers,
Oddly enough, our Labour regime in the Bay and the Tory crowd in Westminster both appear to have a very “relaxed” attitude to the transgressions of the big water companies. However where a farmer or a small business is found to have caused a pollution incident all hell breaks loose. Here in Wales Lesley Griffiths seems to be on a mission to destroy productive agriculture when there is a real need to invest in it, modernise and upgrade it so we can shorten the supply chains for so many basic foodstuffs.
Welsh Water is spending £10M a year on the problem. NFU Wales is spending money on barristers trying to get anti-pollution regulation removed.
Yes Dwr need to do better but farmers are actively working to poison our rivers.
Totally agree about shortening the supply lines – went passed a field full of swede yesterday where beef cattle once grazed. This is the kind of change we need – far less pollution, far less co2 and ch4 emissions. We need to stop concentrating on red meat and dairy and massive poultry, cut herd / flock numbers at each farm down to land nutrient manageable levels and grow a lot more vegetables at local level – all at small scale levels that can see habitat improvements added along side to stem the decline in biodiversity.