ITV Tonight – An Investigation Into Water Pollution

The Wye & Usk Foundation was pleased to be invited to take part in tonight’s investigation into water pollution by Joe Crowley and the ITV Tonight team. It is impossible to capture the complex challenges our catchments face as well as all of the work that has already been done and what we believe still needs to be done in such a short time slot. This update seeks to provide this in greater depth. Whilst others call for drastic and potentially impractical solutions within the current legal and political framework, The Wye & Usk Foundation is focussed on finding pragmatic solutions that are deliverable now. The situation is dire and is likely to continue to decline, but progress is being made and efforts are gaining traction.

The REPHOKUS study, completed by Lancaster University, provided clarity on how our phosphorous burden is generated and compounded by circumstances in the Wye in terms of livestock concentration and our soils inability to hold onto nutrients. The Lancaster study concluded that every year an excess of ~3000t phosphorus (P) is accumulated in the Wye catchments soil. The soils are becoming saturated with phosphorous and some are now leaching phosphorous directly into the watercourses of the catchment. Soils that are washing off fields also carry phosphorus with them.

Our priorities are therefore:

  1. Working to secure a reduction in the total nutrient “load” of the catchment
  2. Installing mitigation to buffer nutrient losses from soils already saturated with phosphorous
  3. Preventing further losses as a result of over-application, soil erosion or inadequate infrastructure.


How are we working to secure these outcomes?

–        We are proactively sharing this knowledge with the farmers; each year we work with more than 350 farm businesses to make changes on their land that will deliver benefits for the catchment. Working with other local partners through Farm Herefordshire we facilitate events and discussion groups to enable peer-to-peer knowledge transfer between farmers.

–        Through our Wye Agri Food Partnership, we are delivering collaborative projects with key businesses sourcing or producing food in the Wye. This currently includes Tesco, Coop, M&S, Muller, Avara, Noble Foods and Stonegate with the support of strategic partners like Rivers Trust, WRAP and WWF. We are working proactively with these businesses as they develop innovative approaches to address nutrient loading and reduce pollution risk from their supply chains. Several businesses are also exploring installation of new technologies to enable the export of excess phosphorous from the catchment.

–       Project Case Study: Through our retailer funded projects (Tesco, Coop and M&S) we have now worked with 48 free range producers, predominantly supplying Noble Foods and are estimated to represent half of the total number of sites located in the Wye. Noble Foods have provided details of their supply chain and encouraged their suppliers to engage with the advice and grants on offer through the project. The farmers have been positive and proactive in engaging with us to identify opportunities to reduce soil and/or nutrient losses from their enterprises. Grant support has been offered for 55 interventions, with 27 accepted to date. The 27 interventions secured have a total value of £126k, funded 50:50 by project funders and the farmers. The types of improvements delivered seek to reduce sediment and nutrient losses directly or indirectly to water, including reseeding range areas, improving clean/dirty water separation, trialling wetland systems, roofing veranda areas directly outside the sheds and increasing tree cover in the range.

–        We have developed the concept of using constructed wetlands and supported Herefordshire Council in our shared efforts to use these to reduce pollution from rural sewage works. The first one, a global first, is currently being built at Luston.

–        We have supported Dwr Cymru in their efforts to secure an investment agreement from OFWAT to increase the number of works that have phosphate stripping capacity and reduce the rate of spillage from CSO’s.


What we still need:

–        We recently bid for, but were unfortunately unsuccessful in securing, DEFRAs Landscape Recovery funding to develop a scheme to install wetlands downstream of high phosphorous soils and fund low phosphorous farming practices. We are now exploring what other ways we can achieve these outcomes as we believe they are essential for securing appropriate long-term land management approaches that are tailored to the specific needs of the Wye.

–        We need both of our Governments to step up to the plate. During her time as Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow refused to progress a Water Protection Zone for the Wye. This was on the basis of additional resource for the Environment Agency to increase enforcement of the “new” 2018 Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) that were in theory designed to prohibit over application of nutrients. The Secretary of State, George Eustice, contradicted this by instructing the Environment Agency not to enforce FRfW. To undermine things further, the Environment Agency have advised that it would be “unreasonable” for farmers to avoid building phosphorous indices if manures are applied to meet a crops nitrogen requirements. In the meantime our soils continue to be overloaded and the river continues to degrade. We believe that Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, DEFRA, Environment Agency, Natural England and local authorities need as much funding and resource allocated to resolving the issues as there was in creating it.

–        We encourage Dwr Cymru to seek alternative options to land spreading of biosolids as this would further reduce the phosphorous load of the catchment.

–        The REPHOKUS study calculated the phosphorous capacity of the Wye and this now needs to be integrated into a “Catchment Limit” that Local Authorities and Regulatory Bodies are bound by. This mechanism will allow quantification of phosphorus reductions secured by water company and agricultural interventions to bring the catchment back within its limit, and then ensure that future population growth and food production are undertaken under the principles of nutrient neutrality.

–        We are developing the natural capital markets that will allow impacted organisations and business to reward and support landowners who reduce flooding, improve water quality, sequester carbon and improve biodiversity and soil health. In the medium term these will transform our catchment for the better.

We are doing a lot more as well. If you want to see, have a look through this website and social media channels.

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