IPU outside Ross on Wye - Credit Lizzie Goldsack.png

Government’s River Wye Action Plan likely to shift problem elsewhere

Government’s River Wye Action Plan likely to shift problem elsewhere

Defra has announced the launch of its much anticipated River Wye Action Plan and the appointment of ex-MEP Anthea McIntyre as ‘river champion’. The Soil Association welcomes some of the progress but wants the government to go further in tackling pollution from the poultry industry.

The plan included proposals for a £35m investment in poultry manure combustors, to tackle the mountain of manure generated by intensive poultry units in the Wye. It also included measures to require large poultry farms with over 40,000 birds to export manure to avoid excess pollution in the catchment.

In response, Soil Association Campaign Advisor Cathy Cliff said: “We welcome the belated emphasis on reducing pollution in the Wye. However, measures to move the sheer volume of manure to different parts of the country is likely to lead to problems elsewhere.

“While we are pleased that Defra has acknowledged that intensive agriculture and the poultry industry are responsible for the pollution that is having such a devastating impact on the Wye, it is dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. Action also needs to be coordinated between the UK and Welsh governments.

“The announcement comes as citizen support rolls in for the Soil Association’s Stop Killing Our Rivers campaign which calls for a ban on new intensive chicken units, support for farmers to exit this damaging industry and action to reduce chicken consumption to more sustainable levels. Without system change the ongoing impact of agricultural pollution has little chance of improving."

Other UK rivers are at risk from the same fate as the Wye

Cathy added: “Our report also identified 10 further rivers in England and Wales at risk from intensive poultry pollution, as intensive poultry units holding millions of birds have been given permission to operate close to other river catchments around the UK. These rivers are already failing UK phosphate targets.

“A piecemeal approach is not sufficient, what we need is a coordinated approach between the national governments which tackles the issues risking the health of rivers across the UK where chicken is being produced on a mammoth scale. This must consider real system change and address the high volume of poultry that we are producing and consuming in the UK.

“The most certain way to avoid river pollution would be to stop intensive poultry units producing such large volumes of manure in the first place. This would also help to protect the fragile ecosystems that are being destroyed in order to produce huge amounts of soya. to feed unnaturally fast-growing chickens living in terrible conditions inside these units.

“Maintaining the status quo on UK chicken production risks further environmental damage both to UK rivers and other sensitive environments as well as internationally important habitats and biodiversity in countries like Brazil, where the Amazon and Cerrado continue to suffer from deforestation and the use of highly hazardous pesticides to grow soya for import to countries like the UK to feed intensively farmed chickens."

New support for farmers

The Soil Association welcomes the move to provide support to local farmers to implement better nutrient management and to move away from inorganic fertilisers and implement sustainable practices like riparian buffer strips. This is the kind of support needed to enable farmers to transition to more sustainable, high welfare farming, not technological fixes that lock farmers into this damaging system.

Also welcome is Defra’s acknowledgement of the citizen scientists volunteering for Friends of the Wye – whose amazing and vital work has so clearly highlighted the impact of the pollution on the river quality, aquatic life and local nature.

The Soil Association wants to end water pollution from intensive chicken farms in the UK and is asking the public to sign its petition to ask UK governments to: ban new intensive chicken farms, help chicken farmers move towards sustainable farming practices, and reduce how much intensively farmed chicken we produce and eat in the UK.

Sign the petition and support our work to save UK rivers