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River Action launches its Plan to Save the Wye

River Action launches an urgent public call for a new ‘Plan To Save The Wye’.

The very recent rapid ecological collapse of the Wye and its tributaries has been widely linked to the rapid growth of the intensive poultry industry across the river catchment. It is estimated that in the last five years the number of chickens being reared in intensive livestock production units in the Wye catchment has doubled to over 20 million birds.

According to evidence submitted to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) by Lancaster University’s RePhoKUs Unit, this has resulted in the Wye’s soils now carrying an unacceptable surplus 60% higher than the national average phosphate (P) levels. The prime cause of this was cited to be the hundreds of thousands of tons of chicken manure that is spread each year across the catchment, adding to the existing burden of manure already produced by sheep and cattle. With much of the resulting nutrients  ultimately running off into watercourses, the EAC concluded in its report on Water Quality in Rivers (published on January 13th) that “Intensive livestock and poultry farming appears to be putting enormous pressure on particular catchments, such as those feeding the river Wye”.  The river’s recent nutrient fed-annual algal blooms are now estimated to have killed 95% of the rivers previously abundant water-crowfoot vegetation.

Today’s call from River Action states that in order to save the river and its tributaries from irreversible environmental damage caused by these intensive agricultural practices, a mandatory catchment-wide Nutrient Management Plan must be implemented with immediate effect.

River Action states that the new plan must be enforced on a catchment-wide basis with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales working in close cross-border collaboration and that, as a minimum, the key actions of the plan must comprise:

  1. A planning moratorium on the construction of new (or expansion of existing) intensive livestock production units (poultry, pigs and Bovine), and on the construction of any new anaerobic digestors (ADs) unless their digestate outputs are nutrient-neutral.
  2. A requirement for all Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs) within the Wye catchment to have approved by the end of 2022 a Manure Management Plan (MMP), to be fully implemented by the end of 2023, whereby all chicken litter is exported out of the catchment to those locations in the UK which have P deficits, and thus currently rely on imported synthetic phosphate fertilisers.
  3. A requirement for all free-range egg producing IPUs to have a Nutrient Runoff Mitigation Plan (NRMP) approved by the end of 2022, to be implemented by the end of 2023, whereby water courses are protected from nutrient run-off from chicken ranges by nature-based solutions.
  4. A significant reduction in ‘number of bird’ thresholds for IPUs coming within the permitting jurisdictions of the EA and NRW to be implemented over the next five years on a progressive sliding scale, thus bringing medium and smaller sized IPUs within the scope of environmental regulations.
  5. A requirement for all watercourses within the Wye catchment to be protected by continuous river buffers of a minimum of 10 metres, providing a nature-based separation zone between all agricultural activities and running water.
  6. The allocation of additional funding by the UK and Welsh Governments to the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales to a) conduct inspections of all IPUs and ADs to ensure MMPs and NRMPs are approved and implement, and b) conduct an annual audit to ensure they are adhering to the provisions of their respective MMPs and NRMPs.
  7. Any non-compliance to result in the closure of the IPU or AD in question until compliance is demonstrated and reapproval obtained.

Today’s announcement follows extensive campaigning by River Action since its February 2021 launch for two of the UK’s leading egg and chicken meat producers – Noble Foods and Avara Foods – to take action to reduce the contribution of their supply chains to the pollution of the River Wye. The campaign still awaits clear commitments from both companies. River Action also recently launched a crowdfunder which has raised over £22,000 to support vital citizen science monitoring of pollution on the Wye and its tributaries.

Additionally, River Action has drawn attention on numerous occasions to the complete collapse of environmental protection right across the UK, and its contribution to the continuing pollution scandal. A petition launched by the group in June 2021, calling for a doubling of the environmental protection budgets of the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, has attracted over 55,000 signatures.


Charles Watson, Founder and Chairman of River Action said:

“ The River Wye is one of Great Britain’s most iconic rivers. The speed and scale of its environmental collapse is a national scandal, as highlighted in the recent Environmental Audit Committee’s report, and one which is indicative of this country’s total neglect of our freshwater environments. With many now fearing the river has just a few years left before it is irreparably damaged, it is time for all parties to accept that urgent action is needed. While the initiatives of a number of local farmers to reduce phosphate emissions are to be applauded, only a comprehensive catchment-wide plan, backed by uncompromising regulatory enforcement will save the river. ”

James Hitchcock, CEO, Radnorshire Wildlife Trust said:

Despite the fact that even the major poultry producers are now openly accepting their contribution to the pollution of the Wye, there is still no joined-up plan to solve the issues. There is now no time left for further endless talks about voluntary, consensus-led self-regulation. The wildlife of the River Wye is slipping away. A catchment-wide plan involving scientists, land managers, industry leaders and conservationists, and managed by better resourced Welsh and English environmental protection agencies is the only way to save our river. ”

Feargal Sharkey, River Action Advisory Board member  said:

“ I wholeheartedly commend the plan being launched today by River Action. This critically important initiative must be implemented with immediate effect – no ifs, no buts. Quite frankly, it’s a scandal that the actions being put forward today were not implemented by the EA and Natural Resources Wales when the nutrient crisis of the river first manifested itself. ”


Read more about the campaign here…

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