A recent visit that I made to the banks of the River Lugg was a stark reminder of the poor condition in which our rivers find themselves. It was extremely cloudy and very low.
The condition of the River Wye and its tributaries has long been a contentious issue in Herefordshire.
One of the challengess of the River Wye problem lies in the numerous parties that must be brought to agreement over ways in which phosphates and sewage can be prevented from entering the river systems.
I am aware of at least three ways that this happens.
Firstly, there are the phosphates in the soil that are natural, and are present and stable. These phosphates will continue to leach naturally, as they have done for generations.
Secondly, there are phosphates caused by large-scale agricultural fertilisation activity, such as chicken farming, and from farmers spreading phosphate-rich fertiliser on their land.
Thirdly, there is the sewage being dumped into the river by companies such as Welsh Water.
Recent articles in The Guardian pins the blame solely on the poultry farms that have invested in Herefordshire, meanwhile our Green Council also attacks farmers.
If individual farmers are deliberately polluting the river, then clearly they should be fined by the Environment Agency. Farmers should not be blamed, however, just because it is easy to point fingers at an anonymous block that cannot defend themselves from such accusations.
Frequently it is Welsh Water who should be prosecuted for failing to properly scrub their sewage.
Whenever I ask that the Environment Agency penalises this behaviour, they simply ask for more money or give excuses.
Meanwhile, the poultry farms that take the brunt of the public’s criticism are actually attempting to take steps to reduce the amount of phosphates they release into the river.
Avara, the media’s favourite scapegoat, is keen to build at least two new Anaerobic Digester plants. These will remove the phosphates from 60% of the chicken muck produced by their Herefordshire units.
They are willing to go beyond this if and when planning permission allows. However the council’s planning system is wildly inconsistent.
Herefordshire Council will need to approve the development of large chicken muck processing plants but will not allow, as I found out recently, an existing septic tank for an application to house a Ukrainian refugee.
They choose to follow old EU directives without offering clear guidance on action that we, the public, could be taking. For years there has been a nutrients board, a talking shop, yet little has yet been achieved to help restore the Wye and its tributaries. To be fair, they have been spearheading a plan to spend taxpayers money on buying land surrounding Welsh Water processing sites to use as soakaways. This would mitigate the poor quality discharges made by Welsh Water!
Farmers and private sector businesses are trying to do the right thing with new AD plants and accept that they will be fined if they are found to be breaking the law.
The Council should stop pointing the finger at them and use its considerable powers to ensure that nutrient plans are comprehensive and effective. This is a unique Council power which is tied into planning and has seemingly been ignored.
The quality of our environment is something we can pass on to our children in better condition than we found it. Sadly by passing the blame, we are going backwards and it has to stop!