Comedian and angler Paul Whitehouse addressed the sorry state of the river – dubbed “O Sylvan Wye’ 225 years ago by Wordsworth – in the second part of his BBC 2 documentary series ‘Our Troubled Rivers’, which aired on Sunday and is now available on iPlayer.
The show featured footage of protests in Monmouth town centre, led by wild swimming instructor Angela Jones, Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye, and included the launch of a ‘Death of the Wye’ coffin, plus scenes of Wilton Bridge, Symonds Yat and Hay-on-Wye.
Campaigners say phosphates from manure spread on fields from large scale upriver chicken farms are destroying the Wye’s eco-system.
And Paul, who was born in Wales and fished the river as a boy with his father, told viewers he was devastated by its decline.
“Its an emotional thing for me, I’ve always been attached to them (rivers)… I can feel their pain, I really do,” he said.
“It’s a stretch of river I know very well, the magnificent River Wye…
“First time I came to the Wye was fishing with my dad and I was blown away by its beauty... back then, everywhere you looked, there was an abundance of life.
“But sadly for this beguiling river, things have changed dramatically, with parts of the Wye overcome by pollution with devastating consequences.”
On the documentary, Paul talks to youngsters at Ross Rowing Club, who said they had got an itchy rash from rowing on the river.
He also met with his old fishing mate John Bailey who has fished the Wye for 40 years.
John said: “In the 90s the stones on the river bed were polished like diamonds, shiny and sparkling, now the stones are covered in slime from algae, pollutants, fertilisers, phosphates, it has resulted in algae gone mad.
“In parts the river is like pea green soup, there are 20 million chickens in the Wye catchment area (figures from River Action UK) and to all ends and purposes the river is dead.”
Paul also spoke to an upriver farmer, who breeds over a million chickens a year for Hereford-based poultry producer Avara, about measures farmers are taking to help stop pollution.
And he said that relentless demand for cheap food from the public and intensified production are sucking the life out of the waterway.
Meanwhile, with fears that a dry spring could make the situation even worse, protestors took to the streets of Chepstow on Sunday to protest against retail giant Tesco for reportedly stocking Wye-catchment produced ‘cheap chicken’.
A samba band and ‘the Lady Wye’ led protestors through the town to the Tesco store, armed with signs saying ‘Wye, Tesco, Wye?’ and ‘Tesco! Stop Killing the Wye’.
Angela Jones posted in response to the protest on the Friend’s of the Wye Facebook page: “Never stop bringing awareness, we won’t go away until change comes!”
And yesterday (Tuesday, March 14), the River Action campaign group launched legal action over the state of the Wye against the Environment Agency for “failing to protect it from agricultural pollution”.
It has applied for a judicial review against the EA for failing to apply the Farming Rules for Water on the river, with the growth of algal blooms leading to “the loss of 90% of the river’s famous and protected Ranunculus bed”.
A spokesperson said: “Phosphorus on the River Wye is accumulating at a rate equivalent to 17kg of per hectare compared to the national average of just 7kg per hectare.
“River Action, a charity campaigning to stop pollution across UK rivers, has today issued a legal claim in the High Court against the EA for failing to prevent the spreading of excess organic manure.”
By failing to enforce the FRW rules on acceptable levels of fertilser, it claims the EA is “allowing destructive levels of nutrients to leach into the Wye causing significant widespread ecological damage to the river”.