Fish Legal has put the environmental regulator in Wales on notice that phosphate inputs into the River Wye linked to waste from free-range poultry farming have caused environmental damage.
Following the notification, under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (Wales) Regulations 2009, Natural Resources Wales needs to investigate and ensure that the farms in question put in place proposals to prevent further damage from occurring.
Fish Legal is representing one of its members – the Ross-on-Wye Angling Club – who have held fishing rights on the River Wye since 1912. In recent years, anglers at the club have witnessed a gradual increase in the frequency and duration of algal blooms on their fishery in parallel with the expansion of the free-range poultry industry in the upper Wye catchment.
Fish Legal have also said that an “Appropriate Assessment” should be carried out to determine the harm being caused to the Wye by poultry farming, following two European Court rulings (see note 6) which clarified that existing agricultural practices should be seen as ‘plans’ or ‘projects’ under the Habitats Directive. As a result, the environmental regulator will need to establish with certainty that the current farming practices are not adversely affecting the integrity of the River Wye Special Area of Conservation.
The fate of the river was recently highlighted by the Wye and Usk Foundation, which has reported algal blooms for the first time ever occurring as high up the catchment as Llanbister in an area with very few other phosphate inputs to the river.
Justin Neal of Fish Legal said:
“It is worrying that the regulator responsible for protecting the Wye has stood by without using its powers to prevent damage to the river. This habitat should be pristine. But it has become so polluted that the river is failing to meet its status targets under national and European law. Natural Resources Wales now needs to act to prevent further harm to the Wye in line with its statutory duties.”
Paul Unsworth of Ross Angling Club, who has been an angler for over 55 years, said: “Natural Resources Wales appear to have been sleeping on the job. Whilst I can see that individual poultry farms in Powys may be acting responsibly, the regulator has clearly failed to assess the impact that all of these farms are having on the river in combination.
“The Wye’s ecology is of the utmost importance. It supports the whole tourism industry in the Wye Valley and provides recreation for people of all ages. Sadly, Natural Resources Wales has allowed the number of chicken farms in mid-Wales to proliferate to the point where one industry could potentially kill off this precious river and the livelihoods of people who rely on it. Hopefully, this formal notification will force them to do something to protect the river before it is too late.”
Natural Resources Wales has been given two weeks to to respond to the formal notification.