Natural Resources Wales referred to environment watchdog for River Wye pollution failures

10th January 2024

Fish Legal has submitted a legal complaint to the interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales against Natural Resources Wales this week for the regulator’s failure to deliver on its statutory responsibilities to protect the River Wye from agricultural pollution.

In the complaint, Fish Legal has alleged that Natural Resources Wales has not delivered its monitoring, assessment and investigation of pollution of the River Wye in accordance with environmental law in Wales and that it has applied the wrong standards in law and in practice.

The complaint follows success in a strategically important case fought by Fish Legal with anglers in Yorkshire in which the High Court ruled that DEFRA and the Environment Agency’s river improvement plans in England were unlawful.

Fish Legal first notified Natural Resources Wales that environmental damage was being caused by intensive poultry units in Wales in June 2020 and again in 2021, following successive years of algal blooms starting high up in the River Wye catchment. 

Relying on data from 2009 to 2015, NRW initially concluded in 2022 that there was no evidence of a deterioration or environmental damage linked to the industry.

However, at the end of 2023 Natural Resources Wales confirmed that between 2015 and 2021 in fact 7 out of 43 Wye waterbodies in Wales have deteriorated on key measures of river health – such as levels of phosphate pollution – linked to agriculture.

Justin Neal, Solicitor at Fish Legal said:

“The number of intensive poultry units in the Wye catchment has multiplied in recent years, all under the watchful eye of a regulator which clearly does not have a handle on the effect of the tonnes of poultry manure being generated and spread in the catchment of this iconic river.”

“Natural Resources Wales should have been properly monitoring, investigating and then acting to tackle the root causes of pollution affecting the River Wye.  Yet, they have no proper plans in place and there is no sign that they will be taking regulatory action to restore river health any time soon.”

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal said:

“As our recent successful legal challenge against the Government and the Environment Agency in England showed, environmental regulators have failed to grasp the full extent of their duties when it comes to restoring river health. We are now exposing the same failures in Wales.”

“This formal complaint is a key step for us and one which we hope will be a turning point for the fortunes of the river Wye”.

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