Defra reveals multimillion-pound River Wye action plan

A new multimillion-pound action plan has been launched by the government to protect the River Wye in Herefordshire and support industry efforts to fully restore it in the long term.

The River Wye Action Plan includes up to £35m of government funding for poultry manure management equipment and the appointment of a locally based “river champion” and taskforce.

Large poultry farms in the Wye special area of conservation will be given grant support for on-farm poultry manure combusters – essentially to burn chicken manure into ash in areas where it could cause excess pollution.

See also: Editor’s View: Industry needs to tackle water issues head on

Defra says combusting poultry manure provides a source of renewable energy and converts manure to a nutrient-rich ash, which is a valuable fertiliser that is easier to transport and use on farms – reducing risk to the environment.

However, any new combustion units will need approval and the department will work with local stakeholders and regulators “to ensure robust assessments for protection of the environment and human health”.

River champion appointed

Farming minister Mark Spencer has also appointed former member of European Parliament Anthea McIntyre as river champion in the Wye catchment.

In this role, Ms McIntyre, who lives in the catchment area, will bring together key organisations and partners to protect and restore the Wye, including by supporting a long-term catchment plan.

This will involve working alongside the local Catchment Partnership and citizen scientists, who have already made great progress in bringing together farmers and other land managers in a long-term plan to restore the river.

Sir Mark said: “The River Wye is facing real challenges, which is why the government is taking action to restore this important landscape and ensure it is better protected for future generations.     

“Our plan will dramatically reduce the amount of nutrients entering the river, mostly by helping farmers transition to more sustainable practices.”

The River Wye Action Plan builds on significant measures already in place under the government’s Plan for Water and farming schemes to help farmers speed up their transition to more sustainable agricultural practices.  

Defra has already allocated £1.2m to farms in the Wye catchment through the Slurry Infrastructure grant scheme, doubled the funding for the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme, and is rewarding farmers through the Sustainable Farming Incentive for taking actions that protect rivers and reduce runoff.

Potential lawsuit

Last month, Manchester-based law firm Leigh Day announced it was building a case against poultry giant Avara Foods to try to win compensation for thousands of people and businesses in the River Wye catchment who may have been hit by high levels of water pollution.

Avara Foods has dismissed the potential claim, saying it is both spurious and lacks credibility, and vowed to strongly contest the allegations if a lawsuit is launched.