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The River Wye

The poultry farms turning the Wye into a “wildlife death trap”

The River Wye is one of the UK’s most iconic and best known rivers. Rising in the Welsh mountains, the river flows through into England, where in its lower stretches it forms the border with Wales. Much of the river valley is classified as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).


The Problem

Following the recent exponential growth in the number of Intensive Poultry Units up and down the river valley, the rapid environmental deterioration of the Wye made headlines, with the river being described as a “wildlife death trap”.

Reports indicate that over 60% of the Wye is facing an ecological crisis. It is widely believed that unless immediate and meaningful remedial action is not taken, the Wye eco-system will suffer irreversible ecological damage.

'Poultry farms turn Wye into wildlife death trap' The Guardian 2020

The river’s deteriorating state has been attributed to the unprecedented and disproportionate growth in poultry farms around the headwaters of the Wye.

As of July 2020, in the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Powys there are 500 farms with a total of 1,420 intensive poultry units/sheds, containing over 44 million birds.

Numbers have been monitored by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) in Powys and through an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project by Cardiff University in Herefordshire and Shropshire.

The run-off of nutrients from chicken excrement from these farms is believed to have led to a major increase of phosphate levels in the river catchment in the past six years, causing the river to now exceed permitted levels of phosphates under the European Union (EU) Habitats Directive.

“Free-range egg farms choking life out of the Wye” The Sunday Times, June 2020

The Campaign

In the face of this situation, River Action launched in February 2021 a campaign targeted at the Intensive Poultry Industry.

Key Milestones Include:

– Gaining support of over 55,000 petition signatories

– Significantly increasing media and public awareness of the link between agriculture and river pollution

– Generating significant pressure on the major agri-businesses in the Wye Valley whose supply chains have been responsible for polluting the river

– Applying pressure to change their practises (resulting in one major agribusiness admitting its culpability and pledging to become part of the solution)

– Pursuing political and regulatory action

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