High Court to hear case for judicial review over Environment Agency’s failure to protect River Wye from agricultural pollution

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High Court to hear case for judicial review over Environment Agency’s failure to protect River Wye from agricultural pollution

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A hearing will be held at the High Court in Cardiff on Thursday 19 October in the legal challenge against the Environment Agency (EA) over claims it has failed to protect the River Wye from pollution.

The charity River Action will make its case for a judicial review of the Environment Agency’s enforcement of regulations that govern the amount of organic manure and artificial fertiliser that can be spread on agricultural land from which water runs off and leaches into the River Wye.

It is argued that the Wye is heavily polluted because excessive amounts of animal manure are regularly spread across land within the river catchment, leading to a substantial increase in levels of phosphorus in the soil. This then leaches into the river, causing widespread algal blooms along the length of the river system, turning the water an opaque green.

Algal blooms block sunlight, remove oxygen and cause widespread algal deposits across the riverbed, with severe consequences for the vegetation and wildlife of the river.

A study by Lancaster University published in May 2022 found 60-70% of the river’s phosphorus now comes from agriculture - 3,000 tonnes of it are entering the river every year. There has been very rapid recent growth of the region’s intensive poultry industry.

The Wye was designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to protect the river’s once-famous extensive Ranunculus river weed beds. However, according to River Action, over 90 per cent of the river’s Ranunculus have now been lost, smothered by algal blooms. 

River Action says this could have been seriously mitigated had the EA enforced existing environmental regulations.

River Action’s Chairman and Founder Charles Watson said: “The River Wye is one of our most treasured rivers, yet in recent years pollution generated primarily by intensive agricultural practices has been allowed to put this river into a position of near environmental collapse. 

“River Action has brought this legal challenge given what it believes to be the singular failure of the Environment Agency to enforce existing agricultural regulations which could have protected the Wye from this ecological disaster.”