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The Environment Agency has been accused of neglecting their duties by allowing chicken waste to pollute the River Wye.
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The Environment Agency has been accused of neglecting their duties by allowing chicken waste to pollute the River Wye.

New accusations have been made against the Environment Agency for neglecting the River Wye. A conservation organization’s investigation revealed that effluent and polluted water from free-range egg farms are being discharged directly into waterways.

Out of the 47 locations surveyed in England and Wales within the Wye catchment area, 19 had drains that connected the poultry units to a nearby body of water. Several of the farms had drains dug up within a short distance from the sheds.

Charles Watson, the head of River Action, a non-profit organization that acquired information about advisory visits to free-range egg farms through freedom of information laws, stated that the records reveal that numerous intensive egg farms have been permitting the waste from hundreds of thousands of chickens to directly flow into the river system without any appropriate measures to mitigate the impact.

This behavior blatantly violates regulations and those responsible for protecting the environment have largely ignored it. There has been alarming negligence over a significant period of time.

The Wye River has been negatively affected by pollution from poultry farms, as hundreds of new units have been authorized in the past 20 years to meet the high demand for poultry in the country. In May of last year, the river’s state was downgraded due to concerns raised by advocates about the damage caused to its ecosystem by intensive poultry production.

The Wye and Usk Foundation, whose goal is to enhance the ecological state of the Wye and Usk rivers, carried out advisory trips to farms. These visits were a collaboration with free-range egg farmers, some of whom are suppliers to Noble Foods, the parent company of the Happy Egg Company brand.

In a February email to officials at the Environment Agency (EA), the foundation expressed concern about drainage water from farms being directed into watercourses, which it deemed a potential source of pollution. The foundation also noted that this issue is widespread and challenging to resolve.

The nonprofit organization was seeking advice on how to handle the runoff. They are collaborating with farmers to enhance the safeguarding of the watershed from waste and agricultural runoff.

The head of the foundation, Simon Evans, stated that many of the problems they are working to solve are a result of past inadequate planning choices. This includes situations where planners have required units to be built too close to water sources.

In certain situations, the answers are not clear and need to be thoughtfully considered with assistance from regulatory bodies. Noble has been actively involved in assisting with finding and financing solutions for the farms that supply them, and their support is fueling the progress being made in resolving the problems.

River Action is seeking a judicial review of the EA over allegations it had failed to protect the Wye from agricultural pollution. It is claimed the agency has failed to prevent the spreading of excess organic manure or properly apply the rules.

According to Ricardo Gama, a lawyer from Leigh Day who is representing River Action in their judicial review, scheduled to take place next month at the high court in Cardiff, the organization’s main objective is for the agency to take a firm stance and actively enforce these regulations.

The Environmental Agency acknowledged that the River Wye is facing challenges and is taking action by providing various forms of assistance to farmers in the area to help them adopt more environmentally friendly practices. They also collaborate with organizations such as the Wye and Usk Foundation, which offers guidance to farmers.

“We conducted 493 inspections on farms in the Wye catchment between April 1st and December 31st, 2023. From these inspections, we issued 285 improvement actions. Our focus was on high-priority catchments, specifically protected habitats, and areas where rule violations and pollution were suspected based on intelligence.”

Noble Foods announced that they have been diligently collaborating with their producers in the Wye and Usk region for the past three years. They source their products from family-owned farms in the area, which make up less than 5% of the overall poultry population in the region. The company is promoting the adoption of nature-based approaches, like wetland pools, through their partnership with the Wye and Usk Foundation.

Gary Ford, CEO of the British Egg Industry Council, stated that the organization is dedicated to following all legal obligations and ensuring that egg production does not have a negative effect on the nearby environmental infrastructure.

He stated that the council is providing funding for several independent research projects related to this topic. “Early findings indicate that free-range farming is unlikely to have a significant impact on the elevated phosphate levels in the Rivers Wye and Usk.”

Rhian Jardine, the leader of development planning at Natural Resources Wales, stated that Welsh Water has released information showing that the use of rural land is responsible for 72% of phosphorus pollution in the upper Wye. We will utilize all available resources to prevent pollution and acknowledge that finding sustainable solutions requires collaboration from everyone involved.

Source: theguardian.com