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River Wye

Government’s plan to ‘protect’ the River Wye too little too late

Oliver Holland, Benji Gourgey and Emily Hay respond to the Defra plan to “protect the River Wye”.

On 12 April 2024, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced its plan to “protect the River Wye”, which included £35 million in funding poultry manure combustors and the appointment of a new ‘River Champion’ and taskforce. The plan comes in response to the well-documented decline of the Wye, culminating in Natural England downgrading it to ‘Unfavourable-Declining’ in May 2023.

Whilst the plan rightly puts the spotlight on agriculture and the role of poultry manure in polluting the River Wye, the severity of the pollution in the River Wye means these measures fall woefully short.

First, the plan fails to provide any serious means of repairing the river to reverse the historic damage allegedly caused by corporate actors such as Avara Foods Limited. Over the past six years, Avara Foods’ rapid expansion of its poultry operations is believed to have had a devastating impact on the River Wye catchment, with its increasing number of chickens allegedly resulting in a marked increase in phosphorus pollution running off into the river. Remediation is essential to reverse the worst effects of this pollution and the actors responsible for the pollution should be made to pay for the damage caused.

Second, the plan lacks the vital urgency for an issue of this severity, with it being reported in February 2022 that the pollution has reached such a critical level that the river is less than two years away from being irreversibly damaged. However, some measures, such as the export of manure outside the catchment will not come into force until the very end of 2025. In addition, there is no timeline in place to action the £35 million grant to help farmers process their poultry manure by using poultry manure combustors on their farms.

Finally, there remains a lack of involvement from Natural Resources Wales despite much of the responsibilities of the River Wye catchment lying with the devolved government. As the catchment spans across Powys, Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, the lack of involvement from the Welsh government remains a concern given that the river will be subject to multiple points of pollution from outflows of intensive poultry units before even reaching the English side of the catchment.

This ineffective action by the government only highlights their and the Environment Agency’s seriously inadequate response to this critical environmental issue.

Leigh Day is bringing a legal action against the primary polluters to force them to clean up and restore the river.

Whilst the Government’s intervention on poultry-related pollution is welcome, the Government’s plan fails to adequately address the historic pollution caused by corporate actors such as Avara Foods who have been allowed to profit at the expense of this historic river. We at Leigh Day believe that the corporations responsible should ultimately be the ones to fix it, hence the legal action.

Oliver Holland
Corporate accountability Diesel emissions claims Group claims Modern slavery

Oliver Holland

Oliver specialises in international cases involving multinational corporations where environmental harm or human rights abuses have been alleged

Benji Gourgey

Benji Gourgey

Benji Gourgey is an Associate Solicitor in the International and Group Litigation team

Emily Hay15

Emily Hay

Emily is a paralegal in the international group litigation department

News Article
Mark Hubbard
River Wye Environment Human rights Group claims

River Wye local residents speak out about how pollution is affecting their lives

Four people living near the River Wye share their stories about the degradation of their beloved river and how their lifestyles and businesses have been impacted by the pollution allegedly caused by chicken producers.