A Powys farming union leader has hit back at ‘distressing’ allegations that chicken farms in the county are contributing to the growth of algae in the River Wye.

In a report published last week the Usk and Wye Foundation suggested that a large increase in the amount of phosphate, caused partly by the large number of chicken plants close to the river’s tributaries acts as a fertiliser and contributes to the recent increase in the blooms’ severity.

“Since 2008 the catchment of one of the river’s tributaries in Powys now hosts an extra ten million chickens. This has produced massive amounts of highly reactive phosphates from their manures,” said the report.

Hitting back at the suggestions, Geraint Watkins, NFU Cymru Brecon & Radnor County Chairman, said: “The one-dimensional presentation of the issues relating to water quality in the River Wye by the Wye and Usk Foundation, and other rivers organisations, is both concerning and distressing for farmers within the catchment. This most recent criticism comes at a time when farmers are working hard in challenging circumstances to keep the national fed in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. 


“The evidence is unequivocal that there are a range of issues and sectors influencing water quality in Wales and within the River Wye.  This includes sewage discharges, forestry, acidification, abandoned mines and contaminated land, as well as physical modifications that alter flows and barriers that impede fish migration. 


“We are disappointed that, in pursuit of its agenda to pinpoint farming, and in particular poultry farming, as the cause of water quality issues within the Wye, this article fails to acknowledge a broader suite of evidence and facts relating to water quality.


“This includes the fact that comprehensive monitoring data undertaken by the regulator over the short and long term shows an improving picture with respect to water quality in Wales.  Evidence also shows a long-term decline in the overall application rates of nitrogen, phosphates and potash since 1983.


“The article also fails to properly acknowledge the influence that record low flows as a result of the exceptionally dry weather experienced during March, April and in May,  when Wales received just 17% of average rainfall, have had on the river and water quality. 


“The failure of the aforementioned organisations to properly present the evidence in relation to water quality in the River Wye, and other water sources in Wales, is damaging and will prove counterproductive.  It only serves to undermine the credibility of the organisations concerned within the farming community who they receive funding to work with.  A focus solely on farming will also fail to deliver water quality improvements in line with water framework directive goals. 


“NFU Cymru is clear that there is always more farming can do and we are strong advocates of appropriate interventions where poor practices are responsible. We are clear the best outcomes can be achieved by working with the farming community to develop solutions at a local level.


“Farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously and recognise their role in protecting and enhancing rivers and streams, as well as caring for the wider countryside alongside producing safe, affordable, high quality food for our nation.”


Powys County Council was also quick to refute the claims saying it was ‘ fully aware of its statutory duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and this includes the many important habitats found in the county such as the River Wye Special Areas of Conservation’.


“Where planning applications, including those for intensive livestock units, have the potential to impact on the River Wye Special Areas of Conservation, they are assessed, under the habitats regulations, to evaluate their acceptability,” said a council statement.


“Natural Resources Wales, as the main environmental regulatory body for Wales, also carefully reviews such applications and in some instances also requires developers to obtain an Environmental Permit.


“All planning applications are publicised by the Council and we welcome any comments or evidence on their potential impacts on the environment, or other matters, so that these can be fully considered as part of the application’s determination,” he said.