Unmasking the Environmental Crisis: Farm Pollution and the Decline of the River Wye

The River Wye, which runs from Mid-Wales to the Seven Estuary, is a stark example of the environmental harm that results from farm pollution. Natural England has downgraded its health rating of the river from ‘unfavourable improving’ to ‘unfavourable declining.’ The Wye is home to Atlantic salmon, macrophytes, and crayfish, all of which are now in decline.

According to the Wildlife Trust, research has shown that farm pollution is a main cause of this decline. It is supported by evidence collected by campaigners who sampled soil from farmland close to the river, which revealed high levels of phosphate. Phosphates are chemicals containing the element phosphorous that, when entering waterways, damage water quality by causing excessive growth of algae. In turn, algae quickly spreads, causing imbalances in water ecosystems, destroying other life forms, and producing harmful toxins.

Too often we take the World’s resources for granted and soil is no exception. We need to be aware of the importance of soil and the role it plays in environmental matters. The FAO reported that the soil has a key function in absorbing carbon and filtering water. As degradation continues less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter resulting in further degradation, so the cycle continues and the problem gets worse.

Phosphates are mined and used to produce chemical fertilisers used in crop production. Crops are fed to animals, which in turn excrete phosphate-rich manure. It has been normal practice to spread such manure on farmland, which is considered a natural fertiliser. However, this can cause phosphates to run off during heavy rainfall and pollute nearby water sources. This is believed to be the cause of the River Wye changing from a haven for wildlife and a pollution-free waterway to something described as a ‘disgusting form of pea soup.’

The finger has been pointed at the many livestock production units, in particular poultry farms, that have been developed in the catchment area of the Wye. The problem is now so severe that the Wildlife Trust is calling upon the governments of England and Wales to put a stop to future developments.

Joan Edwards, the director of public affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, said: "That the Wye is in even worse condition now will come as no surprise to the people that love and live near it". But this new admission represents a shocking failure by the agencies and authorities in England and Wales that are supposed to protect this once beautiful river. Wider research shows that farm pollution is the main cause of its decline, which is why the authorities must enforce the law wherever the causes of pollution are clear.

The River Action Group maintains that the deterioration of the Wye has been caused by the exponential growth in the number of intensive poultry units up and down the river valley, with 60% of the Wye facing an ecological crisis. They report that as of July 2020, in the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Powys, there were 500 farms with a total of 1,420 intensive poultry units or sheds, containing over 44 million birds.

That number of chickens will produce an excessive amount of waste, which needs to be dealt with in a different way than at present. Spreading on land will only cause the ecological problems affecting the Wye to worsen. Organicco offers a solution, ecoHERO, that will solve the problem by utilising the waste in its system to produce fertiliser, reduced in volume and weight, that can be transported at a lower cost and safely spread on land without any risk of contamination. It is a system tested and approved by industry experts. Alternatively, if the fertiliser is not needed to be spread, it can be sold on the open market to produce a secondary income. In addition, the system, powered by the waste, produces electricity and heat, which can be utilised on the farm or poultry unit, thus reducing costs, with any excess transported to the grid and sold to the government. Further income is available through carbon credits and CO2 capture.

It is a system that benefits everyone by solving a noxious waste problem, producing income, reducing costs, and producing environmental and ecological benefits. For more information and details of how the Organicco solution will provide the benefits outlined, please contact us.