Law firm to seek compensation for River Wye pollution

A law firm that specialises in environmental litigation is 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.

Manchester-based Leigh Day claims that industrial-scale chicken farming, instigated by Avara, has been the “overwhelming cause of phosphorous pollution which is damaging the River Wye”.

See also: Environment Agency defends its record on River Wye pollution

The firm points to the rapid expansion of poultry farming on behalf of Avara in recent years, which it says has led to the “unfavourable and declining” state of the River Wye.

Affected individuals might include swimmers, anglers and canoeists, while businesses reliant on tourism, hospitality and leisure may also have a claim, which could be worth “hundreds of millions of pounds”, says Leigh Day.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed that court proceedings have not been issued yet, “though we expect to do so in the coming months”.

Any claim would be funded on a “no win, no fee” basis, but if successful, Leigh Day would deduct a fee of up to 30% of any damages received.

“If the claim is lost, the claimants will not have to pay anything,” said the spokeswoman.

Polluter pays

The potential claim is being supported by campaign group River Action.

Founder Charles Watson said: “With a huge percentage of this industry controlled by Avara, it is entirely appropriate that the polluter must now be made to pay to clean up the mess we believe it has created and subsequently profited from.”

But doubts have been expressed about the true contribution of farming to the level of phosphates in the River Wye.

Suggestions of a 60-70% contribution come from a Lancaster University RePhokUs report published in May 2022.

But industry stakeholders say this is based on outdated coefficients, which substantially overestimate the levels of phosphate excretion from broilers.

There is also a dearth of data on the other sources of phosphate pollution, such as industry and sewerage, while the RePhokus report shows that other livestock contribute far more phosphates than poultry. 


Avara says the potential claim is both spurious and lacks credibility.

“This is an opportunistic attempt to profit from a serious environmental issue,” said a spokesman. “It has no merit and is not supported by evidence or expert opinion.

“It ignores the long-standing use of phosphate-rich fertiliser by arable farms, as well as the clear scientific data showing the issue of excess phosphorus considerably pre-dates the growth of poultry farms in the Wye catchment.”

The spokesman insisted there was no case to defend. “But, if forced to do so, we would pursue Leigh Day to recover any costs we incur.”