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River Action calls on Environment Minister to reveal promised plans to save the River Wye from ecological collapse

River Action has written to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs seeking urgent clarification on when DEFRA will publish its promised emergency plan to save the River Wye from ecological collapse.

Minister Steve Barclay’s predecessor, Thérèse Coffey, undertook to publish an action plan by the end autumn this year. But with days to go before the start of winter, there are growing concerns that the plan will fail to materialise, leaving the Wye facing an existential crisis with no effective mitigation strategy in place.

Founder and Chairman of River Action UK Charles Watson says, “We have written to Steve Barclay, our seventh Environment Minister in seven years, seeking urgent clarification of the whereabouts of the Government’s plan to act regarding the ecological collapse of the River Wye. 

“His predecessor promised the plan by autumn this year, meaning Mr Barclay has just two weeks to make good this commitment. It would be appalling if such a critically important environmental policy action was to disappear between the cracks of DEFRA’s never-ending game of musical chairs.

“DEFRA must act now. With Natural England now having recently downgraded the environmental status of the river to “unfavourable-declining”, the situation on the Wye has reached a state of emergency, with little time left to save the river from comprehensive ecological collapse.”

Intensive poultry industry a major cause of the Wye crisis

Industrialised chicken production throughout the Wye region has now been established as one of the principal causes of the severe pollution of the river. Urgent and immediate action is now needed to end the destructive application of chicken manure across the soils of the river catchment, from where it constantly leaches into the watercourse.

Mr Watson says, “The soils of the Wye are now significantly oversaturated with phosphorus, a prime source of which originates from the continual spreading of the manure originating from the 25 million chickens that are intensively reared across the catchment. The run off of these nutrients, often exacerbated by unsustainable agricultural practices such as winter maize cropping, is the prime cause of the devastating algal blooms that are now witnessed along the length of the river system during the summer months.

“This severe ecological collapse of the iconic River Wye is one of the great environmental scandals of our times.

“The sickening and avoidable tragedy is that this situation could have been seriously mitigated had the Environment Agency properly enforced existing environmental regulations to prevent the excess application of animal waste on land that was already oversaturated with nutrients.”

High Court legal challenge against the Environment Agency

On 28th February 2024, River Action’s Judicial Review hearing will be heard in the High Court in Cardiff, where it will claim that both The Environment Agency and DEFRA have acted unlawfully in failing to adequately protect the River Wye from agricultural pollution.