River Wye in crisis

The River Wye needs you!                   

For many of us a strong silent river runs by. It looks beautiful and has lived for ever. This is probably how most of us see the Wye. The truth is this beautiful, ecologically important and amenity river, which forms part of our local Herefordshire landscape, is slowly dying.

What's wrong?

What is not obvious to a casual observer is the demise of Ranunculus aquatilis, the beautiful Water Crowfoot which is so symbolic of our great river and a keystone species. We cannot see the lack of fish which have died from pollution nor the dearth of cygnets that rely on the Ranunculus as a food source.

What has been all too visible this year is the green algal bloom that at times has covered our river, cutting out sunlight that in turn supresses plant and fish stocks. This bloom eventually sinks and covers all the very important gravel beds with slime, decimating fish breeding grounds.

Much of the above has been sporadically reported in the press but we now believe our community needs to heighten the publicity and place pressure on all agencies to take immediate remedial action.  It is man’s pollution of our river that is the cause.

Pollution sources

Agricultural pollution

It is well known that the causes of pollution are complex. However, the nitrate and phosphate pollution (see map of river Phosphate levels) has sources that are well known. At the lowest end of the scale science attributes two thirds of this pollution (66% based on SAGIS modelling) to agriculture and it could now be much higher. This is mainly run-off from farmland with both water and soil erosion carrying chemical fertiliser and natural manure into water courses. Large tracts of land (no longer with the hedges and headlands that used to form Herefordshire’s orchards and pastures) are now arable and discharge excess rainwater and nutrients direct into the Wye catchment. Soil compaction, due to modern agricultural operations, also slows water absorption and accelerates run-off.

This has been further exacerbated by the plethora of industrial-scale chicken sheds (but see one recent successful campaign) along the Wye in Powys and parts of Herefordshire. This pollution problem has been talked about by government agencies, Councils, interested parties and lobby groups for years without any decisive or legal action.

Sewage pollution

The second source of pollution is our ageing sewage works which also discharge into the Wye catchment. However, the water industry has, and continues to invest, millions of pounds in water treatment. Praise should go to Herefordshire Council which, whilst not legally responsible and with no enforcement powers, has recently allocated approximately £3m. to clean up sewage discharge. Plans for additional wetland filtration are well underway and work on construction is imminent. Unfortunately, little has been actioned to address the single biggest pollution source, agriculture.

What are we doing?

We are now campaigning, stressing that those with the powers to act must be seen to act. When will the Environment Agency be let loose to use its teeth and prosecute polluters? They have the statutory powers but it is clear that their position of fine words and encouragement is not making the Wye and Lugg healthy.

In any other arena such as the industrial world swift action is evident so why have we been turning a blind eye to agriculture? Farming is essential to food production and many farmers have strong environmental credentials but it is also clear that some are not safeguarding our planet’s environmental future.

The evidence exists with river gravel beds covered in slime, algal bloom across great swathes of surface water and thousands of fish dying. Now is the time for all of us to act.

                                                                      Photograph © Antonia Salter, Scenicshoots.com

 

What you can do

We need to be one voice and demand action not words. Some of the solutions in agriculture are also beneficial to achieving climate change goals so there is no conceivable reason to delay further. It is clear that there will be increased costs to some parts of our agricultural industry but what price do we put on a clean and thriving ecosystem called the River Wye?

Please write to your MP demanding action is taken to save the River Wye. Write to Herefordshire Council and to the Environment Agency.

The River Wye is one of the great amenity rivers of England and brings tourism and significant financial gain to our county. We need your voice to be heard protecting our great river.

Save the River Wye links and contacts

Visit us on Facebook for more comments on this issue: facebook.com/CPREHerefordshire

Below are some useful contacts to make your voice heard. Please also sign the on line petition at www.change.org – Save the River Wye

Jesse Norman MP Hereford & S. Herefordshire jesse.norman.mp@parliament.uk

Bill Wiggin MP N. Herefordshire bill.wiggin.mp@parliament.uk

Herefordshire Council – Councillor Ellie Chowns Cabinet Member for the Environment. (She is doing a great job; by lending her your voice she will be even more empowered to seek action) ellie.chowns@herefordshire.gov.uk

The Environment Agency for pollution incidents enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

 

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