The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) has raised its concerns for bird flu being spread along the River Wye from the high density of intensive poultry farms.

Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is on the rise in the UK. So much so that the UK Government has now placed the whole of Great Britain under an Avian Flu Prevention Zone, putting poultry farmers on notice that they may need to keep their birds indoors.

CPRW, which has long campaigned for more monitoring of Intensive Poultry Units (IPU) that are found along the River Wye catchment area in Powys, has raised concerns that the high density of IPUs in Powys could lead to a huge outbreak of bird flu.

CPRW joined a coalition of environmental groups in 2020 calling for a moratorium on IPUs in Wales as it found evidence that waste from these chicken farms was finding its way into the River Wye in increasing amounts. As the main way of spreading Bird Flu is through the waste of infected birds, one outbreak in an IPU along the Wye could have catastrophic outcomes.

A spokesperson for the CPRW says that the IPUs along the River Wye are a ticking time bomb.

“The sheer scale of IPUs across Powys and along the River Wye has already had a direct impact on the environment,” said the spokesperson.

“The river itself has been greatly affected. Now we face the possibility of these intensive poultry farms acting like ticking timebombs with the potential to spread bird flu throughout the entire upper Wye and Severn valleys like wildfire which would devastate the wild bird population, and possibly go one to effect livestock and even humans should the virus mutate.

“We are calling on Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to take urgent action and start monitoring the waste output of these IPUs very closely and as a matter of priority.

“Furthermore, we are asking NRW to consider the sustainability of this level of density of the poultry farms in Powys and confirm that measures are in place to eliminate or reduce the risk of infection of wild birds through spreading of any potentially contaminated bird waste.”

In the last five years, over 150 IPUs have been approved by Powys Council, five times more than the rest of Wales.

CPRW has been liaising with its sister organisation across the border in England, the CPRE, as well as local groups, Friends of the Upper Wye and Friends of the Lower Wye, to conduct Citizen Science projects along the rivers Wye and Lugg to investigate the phosphate levels along the rivers likely to have derived from IPU residues.

CPRW also ran a petition to the Welsh Government to control the rapid expansion of Intensive Poultry Units in Wales. This led to a protracted correspondence with the Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS.

“CPRW will not point fingers if the worst were to happen but urges the Welsh Government to do more to ensure it doesn’t,” the CPRW spokesperson added.