A LARGE crowd of people fearful for the ecological collapse of the River Wye, including river campaigner Feargal Sharkey, today gathered outside Cardiff’s Civil Justice Centre supporting a landmark legal case pursued by River Action against the Environment Agency and DEFRA. 

River Action protests in Cardiff
River Action, Feargal Sharkey and Save the Wye outside Cardiff Civil Justice Centre (River Action)

The core of the Judicial Review is River Action’s belief that by failing to enforce critically important environmental regulations, the Environment Agency has acted unlawfully; and in doing so has failed to protect the Special Area of Conservation of the River Wye from the huge levels of diffuse agricultural pollution that has caused so much of the recent ecological collapse of the river.

Outside of Cardiff’s Civil Justice Centre, Chair and Founder of River Action Charles Watson, flanked by a 10ft tall giant puppet called the Goddess of the Wye, a steel drumming band, River Action’s legal team Leigh Day, lead barrister David Wolfe KC, Feargal Sharkey, Friends of the River Wye, Monmouth Rowing club members and many more concerned community groups, said: “The agonising death of the River Wye has unfolded in recent years like a car crash in slow motion.

“This magnificent watercourse, so often voted our country’s most loved river, has in recent years been assaulted by a deluge of pollution from intensive agriculture, causing prolonged algal blooms.

Feargal Sharkey
River campaigner Feargal Sharkey holding the 'Universal Declaration of River Rights' (Copyright_Adam_Finch_River_Action)

“A major cause for this is the recent exponential growth of intensive poultry production within the catchment of the River Wye, which supplies millions of chickens a week to the nation’s leading supermarket retailer Tesco. 

“At any one time there are as many as 24 million birds reared in the Wye valley – approximately a quarter of the country’s total poultry production.

“The thousands of tons of excrement from these birds is then shovelled out of the sheds and dumped across the fields of the Wye Valley and elsewhere.

“This industrial-scale manure dumping has caused the land of the river catchment to become overdosed by several times the level of phosphorous that can ever be absorbed naturally by what grows in the valley. And each year more gets added.

River Action protest
Founder and Chair of River Action Charles Watson holding the 'Universal Declaration of River Rights' (Copyright_Adam_Finch_River_Action)

“If the law to prevent nutrient oversaturation had been properly enforced, then we argue that the horrendous pollution of the Wye catchment could have largely been prevented.

“However, we believe effective lobbying by the National Farmers Union led to DEFRA instructing the Environment Agency to ignore enforcing this critical protection – effectively giving the intensive poultry industry carte blanche to dump the manure they produce across the Wye Valley, thus causing untold environmental damage to the River Wye.

“Endangered species like the Atlantic Salmon are on the cusp of localised extinction. We are asking for something very simple of the Government: please enforce the law.”

A Crowdfunder appeal has been launched to help cover River Action’s legal costs.

The campaign says the legal challenge presents a ‘unique and urgent opportunity to force the Environment Agency to do its job and finally start to enforce the laws that exist to protect our rivers’.

It claims that In doing so, it can help save the River Wye and ensure that its polluters are held to account. 

However, the predicted costs of this critically important legal case will exceed £60,000. 

Chair and Founder of River Action Charles Watson said, “Please, if you can, help us cover our legal fees, research, and campaign costs to ensure the biggest impact is made.”