Gavin McEwan, local democracy journalist
National Resources Wales says there is no evidence the condition of the River Wye is deteriorating due to the proliferation of intensive poultry units in the catchment, according to a pressure group campaigning against river pollution. River
Fish Legal says it has been told by NRW that the agency has no obligation to act due to lack of evidence.
According to NRW, which based its findings on data from 2009-2015, only one river in the Wye catchment, the Afon Chwefru in Wales, has been identified as potentially deteriorating.
Fish Legal, formerly Anglers’ Conservation Association, said it provided NRW with its own expert report which should have compelled it to take action to address the issue, particularly on the River Ithon, a main tributary of the Wye in Wales.
His lawyer Justin Neal said: ‘This is a clear example of a regulator burying its head in the sand.
“They will continue to rely on their own outdated assessments to deny what is starkly obvious to everyone: the River Wye as a wildlife habitat is deteriorating.”
Gavin Bown, NRW’s Mid Wales Operations Manager, said: “The factors contributing to pollution in the Wye catchment are complex with a range of different sources contributing to phosphate levels in the river system.
“We can confirm that we have been in correspondence with Fish Legal, who are continuing to review the legal situation, and therefore cannot comment further at this time.”
Earlier this year, evidence gathered for a House of Commons committee report saw the Powys Council and Natural Resources Wales criticized for not doing enough to keep the River Wye clean.
The problem of phosphate pollution from agriculture entering the Wye was addressed in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on water quality in rivers which was published in January.
The river runs through Wales and England and forms the border between them for 16 miles.
Herefordshire Council leader David Hitchiner told the committee that neither Natural England nor the Environment Agency “have offered a solution”, while Natural Resources Wales “has been even less effective in Wales, if it’s possible”.
The report cites an estimate by campaigners that there are now 20 million farmed birds in the Wye catchment and “millions more” in nearby catchments.
An academic told the committee that cattle and sheep are also major sources of pollution in the river.
Spreading manure from poultry farms on surrounding fields causes “a net annual gain of phosphorus which accumulates in soils and river sediments of the Wye catchment”, the report says.
Environment Agency modeling included in the report indicates that agriculture now accounts for nearly two-thirds of total pollution in the Rivers Wye and Lugg.
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