Hundreds of people fearful for the ecological collapse of the River Wye, including river campaigner Feargal Sharkey, gathered outside Cardiff’s Civil Justice Centre last week in support of a landmark legal case pursued by River Action against the Environment Agency and Defra.
The core of the Judicial Review is River Action’s belief that by failing to enforce critically important environmental regulations, the Environment Agency has acted unlawfully; and in doing so has failed to protect the Special Area of Conservation of the River Wye from the huge levels of diffuse agricultural pollution that has caused so much of the recent ecological collapse of the river.
Outside of Cardiff’s Civil Justice Centre, Chair and Founder of River Action Charles Watson, said, “The agonising death of the River Wye has unfolded in recent years like a car crash in slow motion. This magnificent watercourse, so often voted our country’s most loved river, has in recent years been assaulted by a deluge of pollution from intensive agriculture, causing prolonged algal blooms.
“A major cause for this is the recent exponential growth of intensive poultry production within the catchment of the River Wye, which supplies millions of chickens a week to the nation’s leading supermarket retailer Tesco. At any one time there are as many as 24 million birds reared in the Wye valley – approximately a quarter of the country’s total poultry production.
“The thousands of tons of excrement from these birds is then shovelled out of the sheds and dumped across the fields of the Wye Valley and elsewhere. This industrial-scale manure dumping has caused the land of the river catchment to become overdosed by several times the level of phosphorous that can ever be absorbed naturally by what grows in the valley. And each year more gets added.
“If the law to prevent nutrient oversaturation had been properly enforced, then we argue that the horrendous pollution of the Wye catchment could have largely been prevented. However, we believe effective lobbying by the National Farmers Union led to Defra instructing the Environment Agency to ignore enforcing this critical protection – effectively giving the intensive poultry industry carte blanche to dump the manure they produce across the Wye Valley, thus causing untold environmental damage to the River Wye. Endangered species like the Atlantic Salmon are on the cusp of localised extinction. We are asking for something very simple of the government: please enforce the law.”