Wye now?

The River Wye – or Gwy in Welsh - is the UK’s fourth longest river, at 155 miles, and Wales’ second, flowing from Plynlimon to the Severn Estuary. This beautiful stretch of river is unfortunately undergoing great change and we're asking for your help to stop that. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales is supporting a Radnorshire Wildlife Trust campaign to help stop pollution into the River Wye.

Powys now has more than 150 Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs) housing an estimated 10 million chickens.  This is industrial scale agriculture with factory-like production lines of, in some cases, 100,000 plus birds at each IPU site, making Powys Europe’s largest producer of free-range eggs.  Birds are fed concentrated diets, often consisting of soya, much of which is from South America and grown on cleared rainforest. 

Recent research by the universities of Lancaster and Leeds suggests that an extra 2,000 tonnes of phosphates a year are being tipped and spread via muck onto land in the Wye catchment area.   This equates to 1.5 million tonnes of manure being spread within the catchment area,  which exceeds what is required for crop growth by many times, every year.   

As part of their manure management plans, farms located near a water course should be required to demonstrate how they will stop the run-off seeping into the river. 

But we can’t know how much run-off there is, because there is very little monitoring or inspection of the poultry units or their manure management plans by the statutory agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcing action on the River Wye – which, as we’ve established, has the highest level of protection as a SAC. Neither can we know exactly what the effect on our rivers is because the water quality is rarely tested. 

River view by Linda Pitkin/2020Vision

Radnorshire Wildlife Trust is involved in a project recruiting citizen scientists to do their own monitoring of the water quality on the Wye, supporting the Friends of the Upper Wye and the Friends of the Lugg, in conjunction with Cardiff University.  We plan to use this data to highlight the need for change, change from our government in Wales, from local authorities and their planning decisions and most of all from Natural Resources Wales, whose budget for monitoring, advice and support has slowly been slashed to historic lows.

You can’t see the phosphate that causes the algal blooms and the resultant loss of oxygen in the water, but we can all see, and often smell, what is creating it: chickens and eggs.  Or rather, the manure that they produce. 

Wye: What Radnorshire Wildlife Trust want to happen from here

When in good condition and the land around them is managed sympathetically for nature, rivers are the perfect way to achieve the Lawton Principles of bigger, better, more joined-up, which have underpinned the Wildlife Trusts’ approach to conservation for the last 10 years. The Wildlife Trusts are calling for at least 30% of our land and sea to be connected and protected for nature’s recovery by 2030. This, and the UK's adoption of the UN target, will take this to the next level. Our rivers are linear corridors that connect meadows, wetlands and woodlands while supporting fish, insects, mammals and birds within their own waters.

And it’s not just wildlife that is restored and better connected.  Healthy rivers contain more oxygen, more life, and thus more carbon which is absolutely vital if we are to prevent global warming – restoring water quality in the Wye would be a nature based solution for climate change. 

Wales is currently developing a new Agriculture Act, still at Bill stage. This Act, if executed properly, can ensure that nature is properly protected, resourced and monitored and that farmers and land managers are properly rewarded for managing their land for public benefits such as clean air, clean water, improved biodiversity and good access. In turn this will help ensure our rural communities thrive.  

Wye: now?

We are one year into the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. And we are coming out of a pandemic where many people realised their connection to nature and the importance of spending time in the wild to their wellbeing. 

We have been shown by the Dasgupta Report that “nature is a blind spot” in economics but that we can no longer afford for it to be absent from national finance accounting systems or by economic and political decision makers. 

The UK hosts COP26 in November, where our politicians will make pledges to become global leaders in reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. 

In November, China will host the delayed COP15, or more correctly the Convention on Biological Diversity, billed as the biggest biodiversity conference in a decade.  At this conference world leaders will pledge to restore nature and work to a target of managing 30% of the land and 30% of the sea for nature by 2030.  Currently around 5% of the land in the UK is in good condition for nature. 

This is all positive and we welcome this shift in focus and the increased energy and interest in tackling the tragic loss of nature we have been experiencing. And yet, right under our feet, on our patch, there is a very sad and sorry example of where we need action far more than words. 

What can you do?

  1. Sign our e-action calling for change here - we need people to sign from England to as what starts in Wales finishes up in England.  Ministers need to know that none of us are happy about this situation.  
  2. Write to Dr. Caroline Turner, Chief Executive, at Powys County Council and Cllr Heulwen Hulme, Portfolio Holder for the Environment, to request that Powys County Council declare an Ecological Emergency for Powys County Council so that the nature crisis and loss of biodiversity is given equal weighting to the climate crisis meaning all major decisions have to be taken with the restoration of nature as a criteria. This will increase budgets and change workplans for better action for nature. 
  3. Think about what products you buy. The supply chain exerts huge power over farmers and land managers and can only sell what people will eat. Boycotting brands or foodstuffs has led to many positive changes over the last 30 years. 

James Hitchcock, Radnorshire Wildlife Trust