The Environment Agency is facing fresh allegations of neglect of the River Wye after a project by a conservation group revealed wastewater and contaminated water from free-range egg farms is flowing directly into waterways.
Of the 47 sites visited in the Wye catchment area of England and Wales, 19 had drainage pipes running from poultry farms to nearby watercourses. Many farms had drainage ditches dug within a few meters of the huts.
Charles Watson, chairman of the charity River Action, who obtained details of advisory visits to free-range egg farms under freedom of information laws, said: “These documents show that many intensive egg production farms collect the waste of hundreds of chickens. It shows that it has been neglected.” Thousands of chickens end up escaping into the river system without proper mitigation measures in place.
“This is a clear violation of regulations, and environmental groups have been largely in denial while this has been going on. There have been years of scandalous neglect.”
The River Wye has been ravaged by poultry pollution as hundreds of new production facilities have been approved over the past 20 years to meet the country’s huge demand. The river’s condition worsened in May last year after campaigners warned that intensive poultry production was destroying the river’s ecosystem.
The advisory visit to the farm was carried out by the Wye and Ask Foundation, which works to improve the ecosystem of these two rivers. The visit was conducted in partnership with cage-free egg farmers, including suppliers to Noble Foods, owner of cage-free brand Happy Egg Company.
In an email to Environment Agency (EA) officials in February last year, the foundation said effluent from farms “presents a risk of contamination and should not be discharged into waterways”. It added that the problem was “very common and has proven to be very difficult to address.”
Charities were seeking guidance on how to deal with runoff water. We work with farmers to enhance protection of watersheds from wastewater and agricultural runoff.
Simon Evans, the foundation’s chief executive, said: “Many of the challenges we are trying to solve are due to historical unsuitability, such as when planners claim units are too close to watercourses. “This is a vestige of the planning decision.”
“In some cases, the solution is not obvious and will need to be carefully considered following guidance from regulators. Noble is actively working to find and fund solutions to feed farms. Their support is driving progress in solving problems.”
River Action is seeking a judicial review of the EA over its alleged failure to protect the River Wye from agricultural pollution. The agency claims it failed to prevent the spread of excess organic fertilizer and failed to properly enforce rules.
Leigh Day lawyer Ricardo Gama, who is representing River Action in a judicial review due to be heard at the High Court in Cardiff next month, said: “River Action’s ultimate goal is to “The goal is for the agency to take a strong hold and actually start the trial.” Enforce these rules. ”
EA says: “We recognize that the River Wye is under pressure, which is why we are already providing extensive support to farmers around the River Wye to accelerate the transition to more sustainable practices.” We work closely with organizations such as the Y & Ask Foundation, which provide advice to farmers.
“In the Wye catchment area, we conducted 493 farm inspections and took 285 remedial actions between 1 April and 31 December 2023. We targeted high-priority catchments and catchments where intelligence services had shown breaches of regulations or pollution.”
Noble Foods says: [we] We have worked collaboratively with the producer base in the Wye and Usk area. We are sourced from family farms in the area, which account for less than 5% of the total poultry flock in the area. As part of our work with the Y & Ask Foundation, we encourage producers to adopt nature-based solutions such as wetland pools. ”
Gary Ford, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, said: “We are committed to complying with legal requirements and ensuring that egg production does not have a negative impact on local environmental infrastructure.”
He said the Council was funding a number of independent research projects in this subject area. “Early evidence suggests that the effects of free-range farming are likely to have a minimal, if direct, effect on elevated phosphate levels in the Rivers Wye and Usk. Masu.”
Rhian Jardine, head of development planning at Natural Resources Wales, said:[Welsh Water] published data showing that rural land use contributes to 72% of the phosphorus load in the upper Wye River. We will use all resources to prevent pollution. We also recognize that we cannot reach lasting solutions alone. Everyone has a role to play. ”