What's polluting the River Wye?

What's polluting the River Wye?

Algal bloom, River Wye (c) Mike Dunsbee/ Friends of the Lower Wye

From chicken manure to sewage, we're diving into the detail!

1. Wildlife in the River Wye is in free fall - "The salmon population of the River Wye is at a critical state... with angling catches down 94% from their peak in 1967."1 Water-crowfoot, which provides nursery space for much river life, is estimated to reduced by more than 90%.2  River invertebrates are now absent in some places.3

2. In May 2023, Natural England downgraded the Rivers Wye & Lugg from "unfavourable - recovering" to " unfavourable - declining."4 The only worse categories are now "partly destroyed condition" and "destroyed condition"

3. It is expected that there are now fewer than two years left to save the Wye from irreversible damage.5

4. The main pollution causing concern is phosphate. Around 73% comes from nutrients leaching from livestock manure into the river and around 22% is from sewage treatment works.6

5. The majority of agricultural phosphate pollution is initially imported into the river catchment as animal feed, mostly for intensive poultry production.7

6. There are an estimated 20 million chickens in the Wye catchment at any one time.8

7. Animal feed ultimately ends up as manure, much of which is spread on fields within in the river catchment, resulting in a huge excess of pollutants.9

8. Some of the soils on the Wye catchment are becoming full of phosphate with a high risk that more will get washed into the rivers.10

9. The vast majority of the manure being produced by intensive agriculture must be removed from the Wye catchment to allow the rivers to recover. Even then, it is expected that it will take many years (estimates of 10 to 20 years) for the soil pollution to reduce.11



Natural England Detailed Evidence Summary Wye and Lugg November 2022

Britain’s rivers are suffocating to death | George Monbiot | The Guardian

3 From initial surveys by ecologist Will Watson. We're fundraising to run a programme of monitoring in Herefordshire's rivers to build clear data.

River Wye and Lugg SAC/SSSI assessment of indicative site condition using CSMG. May 30th 2023

Warning of 'two years left to save the Wye' | Hereford Times

6 Background Info & Current Situation | Engage Environment Agency (engagementhq.com)

7 Re-focusing Phosphorus use in the Wye Catchment | Zenodo

8 Nicola Cutcher’s Linklog: Counting Chickens)

9 Re-focusing Phosphorus use in the Wye Catchment | Zenodo

10 Re-focusing Phosphorus use in the Wye Catchment | Zenodo

11  Re-focusing Phosphorus use in the Wye Catchment | Zenodo