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Poultry blamed for bloom on Wye

image displays Wye with and without an algal bloom

NFU CYMRU has defended the country’s poultry sector after an environmental group said its rapid expansion was a major factor in increased algae blooms on the River Wye.

The Wye and Usk Foundation said modelling has suggested the proportion of phosphate in the lower Wye coming from agriculture – a contributor to algae blooms – has doubled in the past six years.

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The report says that the geographical location of the extra phosphate – being close to a poultry-dense tributary of the river – is “believed to be a factor in the blooms’ severity”.

“Since 2008 the upper catchment now hosts an extra ten million chickens with the Ithon (one of the river’s tributaries in Powys) having the lion’s share,” the group said. “This number of chickens produces large amounts of highly reactive phosphates from their manures, which find their way into the rivers.”

Algal blooms prevent sunlight from aquatic plants and damage river ecology over time, as well as reducing the availability of oxygen at night time, which can contribute to killing some fish species.

Legal responsibility

The Wye and Usk Foundation said both Powys County Council and Natural Resources Wales have a legal responsibility to protect Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) such as the Wye.

“They have, however, been apparently unwilling to use the existing laws to protect the river from the nation’s desire to eat more free-range eggs.

“In the case of Powys County Council, this includes considering the impact of new poultry developments individually and cumulatively,” the group said.

“Evidently, this is something that is not happening.”

NFU Cymru said it was disappointed the group had pointed the finger at farming, saying that evidence showed application rates of nitrogen, phosphates and potash had been declining since 1983 and water quality had been improving.

‘Decline in application’

“Comprehensive monitoring data undertaken by the regulator over the short and long term shows an improving picture with respect to water quality in Wales,” Geraint Watkins, NFU Cymru Brecon & Radnor County Chairman, said.

“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. 

‘Counterproductive’

“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.”