Passion For… Clean Rivers

John Bailey

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Here at Thomas Turner we specialise in vintage and retro tackle, and pride ourselves on our knowledge of the subject. You could rightly say that tackle is our Passion, and we are always here to buy, to sell, and above all, offer advice on the gear you might just have found in your garage. All well and good, but there is a word missing: “fishing”. We might know one Hardy Perfect reel from another, but our core is fishing. Here we are all fishing people, and the fish, and rivers especially, are absolutely central to what our world is about. Therefore we cannot ignore the crisis that is unfolding, and the growing storm over how our rivers are managed. What follows is where Thomas Turner stands on this most contentious of subjects but also, and vitally, where are you with your thoughts on the future of your rivers? We truly are in this river nightmare together.

There is absolutely nothing new about the battle for clean rivers. The “Great Stink” that afflicted the Thames at Westminster in the 1850s led to the building of the capital’s sewers. The Salmon and Trout Association was founded as far back as 1903, and the pollution-battling Anglers Conservation Association followed in 1948. Over the years there has been the Mundella Act, the Clean Rivers Act, and the formation of the Pure Rivers Society. Great angling editors like Francis Francis, William Senior and Hugh Tempest Sheringham campaigned tirelessly for clean rivers a century ago. Since then, we have applauded the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the fight Hugh Falkus waged against acid rain. And yet, despite all these battles, the war has never been so far from being won as it is today.

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The Wye continually runs rusty brown

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The Wye in flood only increases the amount of chicken droppings
in the river rather than having a cleaning effect

Right now, it is impossible to ignore the state our rivers are in… unless you are in government, or one of the statutory authorities who should be doing something about it all. In every section of the media we are bombarded by reports of rivers in peril, and so loud and so confusing is the clamour that it’s all but impossible to make sense of any of it. But let’s try. As ever, Thomas Turner is here to help!! Let’s look at the Villains first.

Perhaps “Villains” is a strong word and too emotive, but we should be tired of sitting on fences, pussyfooting around this crime against the environment. Let’s start with the dredging and draining practices that began after the Second World War. Deep dredging canalised miles of river, with the view of draining historic flood meadows and rushing excess water to the sea. Many rivers lost 75% of their natural habitat in the drive to create more farmland that has largely resulted in downstream flooding. Upland rivers have suffered from overgrazing, ill-advised forestry, ploughing, and peat exploitation.

Let’s turn to the pharmaceutical industry, responsible for antibiotics, contraceptive pills and antidepressants which go down our waste pipes. Water companies can’t deal with the residue which ends up in rivers, messing with fish, birds and invertebrates. Whilst an ever more dependent society might need these drugs, should not Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and the rest pay to clean the effects of their products?

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Locals report the neighbouring Severn is also suffering from agricultural run-off

What about sewage, much of it untreated and dumped into our rivers? This is a curse, especially after rain when outdated treatment plants are overwhelmed. There are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of illegal sewage spills annually, and at Twickenham a billion litres of sewage a day can sometimes find its way into the Thames. In 2019, water companies spent 1.5 million hours discharging sewage into rivers, and Wessex Water dumped sewage into the Hampshire Avon catchment for 14,642 hours. The Windrush Versus Sewage Group has been set up to deal with this scandal in Oxfordshire, but why do citizens have to deal with these crimes, and not the so-called regulators?

We can’t let industry off completely, but agriculture has attracted every spotlight as a major river polluter. 60-70% of damaging phosphates in our rivers come directly from farming practices. Agriculture depends on insectides, pesticides and every “cide’” you can think of, and yet it is scarcely regulated at all. A typical farm can expect an inspection on average every 263 years, and in the meanwhile is free to operate as it wishes. Even apple orchards that we think of as quintessential Cider With Rosie havens are sprayed multiple times by the end of the summer, the excess chemicals gushing into the rivers when it rains.

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Abstraction is a killer too, sucking our rivers’ lifeblood in front of our very eyes. Feargal Sharkey has demonstrated famously that virtually all the water in the Lea comes from the outfall of Luton sewage works. The way we use water is lamentable. Domestic waste water from laundry and showering can be recycled to flush toilets, water the garden and clean cars, rather than taking water from the rivers to do these jobs. Porous drives and car parks would allow water back into the aquifer. Water butts would allow us to collect rain water for our gardens. And how come we use 142 litres of water a day, on average, when the Danes use half that? A bath takes 80 litres of water, and a power shower five litres of water a minute. Washing your car? There goes a further 250 litres. To save our rivers, we all need to think smart.

Sticking with Villains, the regulators are woeful. “The Environment Agency turned twenty five years old but our rivers won’t be celebrating,” said Nick Measham, chief executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation, in April this year. When it comes to prosecuting polluters, Guy Linley-Adams at S&TC has said “the system is broken. The watchdog has been chained, beaten and muzzled.”

Perhaps we are all to blame because we just don’t care enough. Didn’t a recent survey reveal more people worried about their internet connection than about their water supply? Perhaps we just don’t know enough? Perhaps Countryfile is to blame in the way it paints a banal picture of the countryside as a happy Nirvana where Beatrix Potter animals roam? How about those Westminster Greens like Carrie Johnson who have the PM’s ear, but spend all their energies fretting over beavers rather than basics?


In the last week or two, a high water mark has been reached. How many of you have watched Rivercide, a YouTube film made by George Monbiot? (See above) Watch it. It lasts an hour and crystallises everything you need to know about how our rivers are abused. It concerns the Wye and that iconic river’s destruction at the hands of completely unregulated chicken farmers, who operate rash-like over its catchment area. Put simply, the river is drowning in chicken ****, and just yesterday the Wye oozed its way North of Hereford as a stinking, green, phosphate-filled ditch.

A call for action in a Hereford tackle shop

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Monbiot shows how chicken manure is spread on the land ankle-deep. We know this: Thomas Turner has witnessed it. Chicken **** carries five times the phosphate levels of sheep, and after rain this overdose of phosphate seeps into the soil where it builds up over time. And of course, from the land it ends up inevitably in the river, producing algae blooms that kill light and oxygen. The stones along the river bed are slime-ridden and the river runs a perpetual rusty brown or pea green. Ranunculus has all but vanished. Don’t even ask what has happened to the fish and invertebrates, but Wye guide Nathan Jubb has described the scenario like “watching someone you love die of cancer.”

Natural Resources Wales and, yet again, the Environment Agency should have been regulating this whole process, but predictably have shown themselves to be worse than useless. When asked by Monbiot, they confessed complete ignorance of the numbers of units and of chickens within them. The whole scandal has been revealed by the Citizen Scientists organisation and by members of groups like the Campaign For the Protection Of Rural Wales. Just five years ago, the Wye ran magnificent. Today it is a tragic disgrace. But perhaps the scale of this crime is what is needed to galvanise the lumbering nature of environmental policies in this country into some sort of action? TT has dealt with the Villains: the Wye Rivercide clarion call is bringing forth the Heroes.

Monbiot himself is the type of fang-toothed campaigner we must have and to whom we must listen. He has had a chequered past, but on the Wye and chicken **** he is on the money. Add in Feargal Sharkey, he of The Undertones and “A Good Heart.” What a revelation he has been. Bob Mortimer assures us at TT that he will use his podcasts to spread the word, and perhaps even mount a petition. Stephen Townley, a lawyer in the Wye valley, has striven with some success to curb the worst of the damage inflicted by unregulated canoeing. The Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign is bearing fruit, and has forced the EA to promise fifty new agricultural inspector jobs in the immediate future. Simon Cooper’s Fishing Breaks newsletters are a constant beacon of common sense and should be read by all. There are watchdog groups on rivers like the Wharfe doing great work, and the Wild Trout Trust is an inspiration in dark times. The Eden Project has promised to support the fight for the Wye, and the Wye & Usk Foundation is stepping up to the mark. In fact, Wye Warriors are emerging everywhere, and just need their energies to be harnessed.
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Perhaps the fate of the Wye could prove to be the straw that at last breaks the back of regulatory indolence and inefficiency. Here at TT we are waiting to hear what you have to say, and what you think we should be doing together as informed, concerned anglers. We are a tackle institution but there there is no tackle without fishing and our back is firmly against this wheel. The time for change has now surely come.

Their AT sticker demanding action
 

John Bailey

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The Wye looks so serene and pure… from a distance

Passion For... Clean Rivers (Part 2)

In the few days since TT first talked about the Passion For Clean Rivers, things have moved on, especially down on the Wye. The weekend just gone (24/25th July) saw large numbers of salmon dying in the middle reaches of this river, and barbel dead in the upper river above Hay and into Wales.

We are not saying here that the Wye is more important than any other river, but the fact is that it is iconic, beloved by all who appreciate the countryside (not just anglers), is an essential part of the home tourist industry, and is of course an SAC and SSSI. Steve Hunt at Sportfish said that “the Wye is on its arse” and he is right. He went on to say that in his opinion it might be too late to save it, and that is a dreadful indictment of the way we have allowed all our rivers to be treated this century.

In many ways, the Wye crystallises all that is wrong with UK river management. There is a battle emerging for the Wye that could be our Waterloo, our huge and perhaps last chance to save our rivers this century. If we lose a river as totemic as the Wye, then is there a river in the land that can be remotely regarded as safe?

At TT, we would like to thank the scores of River Wye experts who have talked to us these last three days, and of course George Monbiot, who kicked the hornets’ nest big time. If you haven’t seen his film Rivercide on YouTube, you simply MUST!

THE PROBLEMS AS TT SEES THEM

Like many rivers, the Wye has probably been in some decline for twenty years or more. The growth in potato farming has long been seen as an issue, along with worries over the increase in sheep numbers.

For this period, and probably for much longer, the Wye has depended on flushes of clean water coming down from the Welsh uplands to clean it out, in summer especially. There has always been a certain amount of algae growth in the river in the hotter months, but this has not reached crisis proportions because of these regular pushes of cleansing water from Wales.

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The Wye in flood… the trouble is more phosphates are being swept into the river
from the fields where chicken excreta is spread

As Rivercide made clear, the water coming down the Wye has now itself been degraded by the number of chicken units now operating, in Powys especially. Chicken excreta is highly loaded with phosphates, and this is now finding its way into the river and frequently creating an algal soup. Oxygen levels plummet, especially in hot weather, and fish die. Weed vanishes. Insect life collapses, along with the bird life that depends on it. The river becomes little more than a stinking ditch, incapable of sustaining anything like vibrant life.

Natural Resources Wales, the Environment Agency, and Natural England should all be aware and on top of this situation, but they are not and have not been. Monbiot’s film proved that the first two agencies had little idea how many poultry units they had licensed, how many birds were being raised, or how these units were being run. It would seem that the chicken business has run riot in the Wye catchment, and that the statutory authorities have lost control of the whole Wild West situation. As both NRW and the EA plead, their budgets have been cut, but the fact remains that money in both camps is very evidently frequently wasted, and the licensing and policing of poultry units should have been top of their respective agendas.

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Paul and Bob on the Wye… two 100% genuine and passionate anglers…

There are several contributing factors. The number of canoes has far outstripped the river’s capacity to cope with them, especially as the canoe industry has been largely unregulated and novice canoeists have no idea of the damage they are doing to spawning redds. Cormorants numbers have grown to plague proportions. The fact that the Wye is part-English, part-Welsh has not encouraged joined-up thinking. The many groups have that have arisen to save the Wye often act individually, and there has certainly been no common voice.

The fact is that despite the damage these factors have contributed to, at the moment, what is killing the Wye, and we use the word carefully, is the appalling decline in water quality. Until this is addressed, every other issue fades into relative insignificance.

TT’S POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

We stress these are not our brainwaves, but those of the experts we have talked to. What is obvious is that action is required, and required now. Too often in river management, too many groups simply become talking shops, jealous of their position – or their funding. We also suggest that whether you fish the Wye or not, you should help, or at least take an interest. The horrors down here on the Wye prove none of us are safe.

Perhaps the number one objective is to force NRW and the EA to face facts, to accept that mistakes have been made, and to start putting the evident wrongs right. At present both authorities are stonewalling, and in the EA’s case at least, denying there is a serious problem. Getting organisations like the EA to budge is historically difficult, but this has become an essentiality in this case. What can any of us do?

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Anglers up for a fight

TT believes we should support those great organisations that are at least trying. The Wye Salmon Association is a fine example of a voluntary group passionate about change. WSA has recruited over forty volunteers to check phosphate levels along the Wye, and now has a huge amount of information over a whole range of data. These are the facts with which NRW and the EA can be confronted. The Angling Trust has forced the EA to employ fifty more farm inspectors. Great. Let’s make sure they are employed now, and they have a map of the Welsh borders!

Many people have told us angling has to unite for once in the face of this catastrophe… for that is what we are looking at. The Wye Salmon Association and the Wye & Usk Foundation should be working together. Let’s draw in the Angling Trust, the River Wye Gillies Association, and let’s see game and coarse anglers talk to one another for once. There’s good sense talked in Woody’s Angling Centre, just as there is at Sportfish and Orvis.

Let’s all of us march to the same tune, no matter what our differences in the past. Anglers should be talking with the Wye Phosphate Working Group, the Friends Of the Upper Wye, and the Campaign For The Protection Of Rural Wales.

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Ranunculus is a weed of the past on the Wye

So great is the danger that, yes, we should be talking to the canoeists and the wild swimmers, because the river belongs to all of us. Even the RSPB should be in on this one. Are they aware that the Wye swan population is teetering? The almost complete decline in ranunculus beds as a result of sky high phosphate levels led to the deaths of most cygnets on the river in 2020. In 2021, very few adults have even made nests or laid eggs at all. Numerous riverside householders are reporting swans eating their lawns for the first time ever. The RSPB should be all over this one, surely?

We are told we live in a democracy, so we should be driving our elected members over this one. TT have been impressed by the efforts of Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford. On 30th June this year, Norman called out NRW, the EA and Natural England for not tackling phosphate pollution. The pressure on all our MPs is something we can all help stoke and maintain.

The media have to pick up on this situation if we are to get the message across, educate the wider public, and get them on our side. How? Ideas please! Can angling celebs (horrible word) play a useful and sustained part? Certainly Feargal Sharkey has raised the temperature over the chalk streams. There is no better, more genuine angler than Paul Whitehouse, who is also a member of the Wye Salmon Association. Perhaps these anglers can open a door that the sport as a whole can troop through?

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The glorious Tweed… is this an example to follow?

It has also been suggested that the Wye needs to be run in the way the River Tweed Commission runs that great river. One body with serious powers dedicated to the well-being of the catchment under their control. What do Scottish salmon anglers think of that one?

It’s good to end this on a question, because here at Thomas Turner we are throwing this open to you. Yes, we are a company dealing in veteran and retro tackle, but at heart we are anglers, passionate about fishing, especially wild fishing in rivers. This is who we are, and this is what we are pledged to do. Please, let’s all get on top of this together, because if we lose the Wye, we are close to losing the lot!
 

JohnH

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About the slightly condescending remarks concerning the BBC's Countryfile in article 1 of 2. I am no uncritical admirer of the programme, but I don't think it's wise to make enemies you don't absolutely have to, anywhere. I believe Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated this as part of one of his campaigns some years ago. The message back from the BBC was that the UK public does not want, or respond to, an endless diet of doom and gloom about the environment / countryside. But the Beeb knows that they should not be unrealistic about this. Regular watchers will have noted one or two darker or more serious items are shown each week. Often fronted by Tom Heap, sometimes by Charlotte Smith.

Try to get them onside perhaps ?
 

raphael

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There's one celeb' in your country that is known to be a serious angler: your future king. I don't know if it can be a chance for you or not, but here we have no river ambassadors and nobody to support our daily struggle against all sorts of pollution (especially of agricultural origin), water abstraction and micro-hydro.

R
 

John Bailey

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About the slightly condescending remarks concerning the BBC's Countryfile in article 1 of 2. I am no uncritical admirer of the programme, but I don't think it's wise to make enemies you don't absolutely have to, anywhere. I believe Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated this as part of one of his campaigns some years ago. The message back from the BBC was that the UK public does not want, or respond to, an endless diet of doom and gloom about the environment / countryside. But the Beeb knows that they should not be unrealistic about this. Regular watchers will have noted one or two darker or more serious items are shown each week. Often fronted by Tom Heap, sometimes by Charlotte Smith.

Try to get them onside perhaps ?

JohnH, thank you for your thoughts, which I thoroughly understand but only half agree with. It seems only Sir David is allowed to speak unpalatable facts when it comes to the environment, and that the Beeb prefers to let the public wallow in a gold glow of ignorance. I personally find Countryfile condescending. It is more obviously a programme for children than adults, and when it comes to the disasters we are facing, these won’t be solved by Matt Baker eating local produce or trying his hand at dry stone walling. I agree there are occasional nods at some serious issues, but overall we are asked to believe all is right with our dying world. You know, we all know that this is palpably not the case.

It seems that the public can be told about Covid deaths, economic crashes, ministerial corruption, housing scandals, and endless diversity debates, but it must not be troubled by the fact our natural world is crashing down around our ears. It’s quite true the BBC would like to draw a veil over every aspect of the whole tragedy. For example, back in Norfolk last year I tried to get Look East interested in the story that canoeing was destroying the spawning beds of roach, barbel and chub all along the Wensum. Despite having contacts at the programme, I was told that the story was too controversial for them!!! How on God’s earth are we going to educate the public with this attitude in place? I know three people who work on Countryfile: each one professes to agree with me, but all lament that it is designed for easy viewing on a stress-free Sunday evening. Until someone, somewhere, somehow makes the public realise the nightmare we are walking into, any protest like Rivercide is going to be ignored, or treated with scepticism and even hostility. So, truly I believe the BBC has a lot to answer for here, and the stance they take is not going to steer the Titanic around the approaching iceberg.
 

JohnH

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JB, as stated I certainly didn't come at this as an uncritical Countryfile admirer. Your point about exactly what is their target audience is well made, and echoes something Amanda Owen aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess said about Countryfile recently, on the lines of "...it sure as hell ain't aimed at people who live and work in the countryside". Maybe we simply should accept the programme for what it is, as you've described it. The recent Panorama about raw sewage pollution didn't pull any punches so let's hope for more along those lines from the Beeb. Simon Reeve and Mortimer and Whitehouse are BBC regulars who are more than prepared to put their heads above the parapet, as well. Kate Humble has a media profile, farms close to the Wye and loves the valley, has anyone reached out to her about the appalling state of affairs on the river ?
 

bonefishblues

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JB, as stated I certainly didn't come at this as an uncritical Countryfile admirer. Your point about exactly what is their target audience is well made, and echoes something Amanda Owen aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess said about Countryfile recently, on the lines of "...it sure as hell ain't aimed at people who live and work in the countryside". Maybe we simply should accept the programme for what it is, as you've described it. The recent Panorama about raw sewage pollution didn't pull any punches so let's hope for more along those lines from the Beeb. Simon Reeve and Mortimer and Whitehouse are BBC regulars who are more than prepared to put their heads above the parapet, as well. Kate Humble has a media profile, farms close to the Wye and loves the valley, has anyone reached out to her about the appalling state of affairs on the river ?
The Panorama programme didn't seem like the work of a broadcaster which was determined not to cover the issue.
 

bonefishblues

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If TT (another namecheck for free there ;) ) wants to do something that could move this forward, might I suggest that what's desperately needed is a Grand Coalition of all the interests, and that they might seek to assemble it?
There's a myriad (not you, as you were!) of users and organisations who use the waterways of the country, and who have a vested interest in their cleanliness and sustainability.
Now that would be a body which carried clout, but it needs the will, patience and skill to assemble it.
 

John Bailey

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I’m happy, if that is the right word, to have heard from Stuart Smith of the Wye Salmon Association, commenting on my last piece. I’ll be honest: I have been worried that the last few days of cooler, wetter weather might have lost us focus on this issue, and I’m reassured that men like Stuart and Stephen Townley are in for the long haul.

Stuart points out that the River Wye Gillies Association folded about five years ago as there simply weren’t enough of them to carry on the group. I didn’t know that. Sorry. What an indictment on the state of the river.

He also suggests that we are looking at 17 MILLION chickens in the catchment area.

Perhaps even more depressing is the fact (which I had overlooked) that dead salmon do not gas up and float. As Stuart says, just because fifteen or so salmon were seen dead and floating at the weekend, that does not mean there were not worse horrors beneath the surface. While we are on that subject, do we know what happens to dead barbel in this regard?
 

JohnH

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While the preceding 4 posts were being written, the monthly newsletter from Salmon & Trout Conservation arrived in my email reader. It contained, among other things, this...

...with Atlantic salmon being the indicator species par excellence. If a river has a sustainable population of salmon, it is fit for fins of every description. I'm sure you will all share our unbounded passion to achieve this goal. The problem is that the wider public – whose voice we need to succeed – do not. How do we get them on side? Education to create a mandate and overcome wide-spread indifference to freshwater fish may be as important as the evidence-led campaigning we do. It may well be that our “business” is as much about educating to inspire the passion to protect Atlantic salmon, sea trout, brown trout and other wild fish as it is about fighting for the policies and regulation they must have to survive.
 

Elwyman

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I see that the Welsh Conservatives are backing the NFU in an appeal against the Welsh Government's new anti farming pollution regulations. Perhaps someone should tell Carrie.

Perhaps farmers should consider diversifying out of dairy farming if they can't afford to manage the waste it produces, without polluting our precious rivers.
 

bonefishblues

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While the preceding 4 posts were being written, the monthly newsletter from Salmon & Trout Conservation arrived in my email reader. It contained, among other things, this...

...with Atlantic salmon being the indicator species par excellence. If a river has a sustainable population of salmon, it is fit for fins of every description. I'm sure you will all share our unbounded passion to achieve this goal. The problem is that the wider public – whose voice we need to succeed – do not. How do we get them on side? Education to create a mandate and overcome wide-spread indifference to freshwater fish may be as important as the evidence-led campaigning we do. It may well be that our “business” is as much about educating to inspire the passion to protect Atlantic salmon, sea trout, brown trout and other wild fish as it is about fighting for the policies and regulation they must have to survive.
IMHO it's not about the fish per se, it's about having the ability to swim in a non-foetid soup, or paddle something that has a current and life, or walk beside something that has birds and fish and interesting things to look at. With very little education, many many people would support a cause that ensured their continuation.
 

John Bailey

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Passion For... Clean Rivers

In reply to some of the comments, do we have to accept that NRW and the EA will work with glacial slowness over the question of phosphate pollution in the Wye – not that that should mean a relaxation in our efforts to prod them into action? Do we have to realise that so much money has been invested already in chicken units in the Wye catchment that closing these down will be a non-starter? Perhaps we have to explore different ways of disposing with the excreta produced, and aim to prohibit the spreading of it on land anywhere from which it can leach into the river or the streams that feed it? More expensive, probably yes, but surely a compromise that sane parties can agree upon? Am I crazy or am I missing some big issues here? If not, how can this partial solution be achieved, and quickly?
 

Mr Notherone

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Passion For... Clean Rivers

In reply to some of the comments, do we have to accept that NRW and the EA will work with glacial slowness over the question of phosphate pollution in the Wye – not that that should mean a relaxation in our efforts to prod them into action? Do we have to realise that so much money has been invested already in chicken units in the Wye catchment that closing these down will be a non-starter? Perhaps we have to explore different ways of disposing with the excreta produced, and aim to prohibit the spreading of it on land anywhere from which it can leach into the river or the streams that feed it? More expensive, probably yes, but surely a compromise that sane parties can agree upon? Am I crazy or am I missing some big issues here? If not, how can this partial solution be achieved, and quickly?
We should also realise that there is a time delay on the impact of phosphates entering our rivers. The full impact of the existing farms is probably years away, so without adding any more chickens the situation will get worse. It is unrealistic to expect hundreds of chicken farms to be closed, so the answer must lie with urgent legislation to prevent the spreading of highly reactive phosphates on the current farm land.

I don't know how this is achieved, but I doubt it is possible without a coordinated effort from a coalition of interested parties (certainly not just anglers) and enough politicians from directly impacted constituencies. I have no confidence in the regulators acting without being strong armed.
 

JohnH

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Elsewhere, chicken sh*t is pelleted and turned into a fertilizer that's on sale in garden centres...is there a commercial opportunity for someone here ?
 

Paul_B

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Elsewhere, chicken sh*t is pelleted and turned into a fertilizer that's on sale in garden centres...is there a commercial opportunity for someone here ?

As above,
Its used widely amongst gardeners as a organic fertiliser, those of us who grow tropical and exotic garden plants use it a lot, I keep hens so I don't buy it.

Heres a sample advert but its also available in 20kg bags from other places

 

John Bailey

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We should also realise that there is a time delay on the impact of phosphates entering our rivers. The full impact of the existing farms is probably years away, so without adding any more chickens the situation will get worse. It is unrealistic to expect hundreds of chicken farms to be closed, so the answer must lie with urgent legislation to prevent the spreading of highly reactive phosphates on the current farm land.

I don't know how this is achieved, but I doubt it is possible without a coordinated effort from a coalition of interested parties (certainly not just anglers) and enough politicians from directly impacted constituencies. I have no confidence in the regulators acting without being strong armed.

All good points Mr Notherone. I think it’s a given that we have to accept that the chicken farms will never cease to exist. What we have to do is battle to ensure the sewage, for that is what it is, is disposed of in a way that does no further damage to the environment, Herefordshire’s rivers in particular.

I do not think that is asking too much, and my hope is that the farmers along the Wye catchment are realising this. Perhaps we will not see change tomorrow, but the issue is being debated seriously at last, and the consequences of continuing to spread waste on the fields are being recognised. We have to realise that, as well as an environmental disaster being caused, the health of the Wye and its valley is extremely important financially to all manner of commercial concerns in the area – not least to farmers renting out camp sites.

It’s a frightening point that phosphate already in the soil (and everywhere else) is a ticking bomb that can leach out for eons to come. Do we know this is 100% true? What can we do to alleviate this if it is? I have a great belief in nature’s ability to recover if given a chance, but perhaps I’m over-romanticising on this one?

In short, I feel we have to unite all interests, possibly behind a sensible group like the Wye Salmon Association (or Wye & Usk Foundation now that it seems to be engaging) and press for rapid change in how the chicken industry disposes of its waste. It has to clean up its act and fast, but this is surely both possible and reasonable ?
 

Mr Notherone

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Monmouthshire
It’s a frightening point that phosphate already in the soil (and everywhere else) is a ticking bomb that can leach out for eons to come. Do we know this is 100% true? What can we do to alleviate this if it is? I have a great belief in nature’s ability to recover if given a chance, but perhaps I’m over-romanticising on this one?
John, I believe this is the case. I'm not an expert, but I have been trying to learn as much as possible about this issue so that I can become a nuisance to my MP.

You might like to read the following reports by a member of the Wye Salmon Association Water Quality Monitoring Team, they make disturbing reading. As I was able to find the information on-line, I assume it is in the public domain and can be shared.
 

John Bailey

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Nov 19, 2020
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89
Gordon Green’s report.

At last, thanks to the Wye Salmon Association and to member Gordon Green, we seem to have the proof about phosphate overload into our rivers, the Wye especially, that we need. In my last ramblings I asked whether we knew the life of phosphates in the soil, and now we have the answer to that one and much more besides. I urge you to click on to the report link. Mr Green explains his degree was not in soil science but physics, and my degree in History was even more useless in this regard, but after an hour and several re-reads I think I have got the gist.

If I can make sense of this terrifying study, then I am sure you lot can. As Gordon Green says, we now have the facts with which to beat NRW and the EA. The shame of this is that these bodies, charged with looking after the environment, knew these facts anyway, but chose to ignore them. Doesn’t this whole debacle suggest that a complete root and branch rethink is required, and that we have to consider whether our statutory bodies are fit for purpose?

Perhaps the overriding issue is the question of vastly improved Manure Management Plans for all these units? I believe that there is a meeting called by WUF (Wye & Usk Foundation) at Fownhope Green Man on Tuesday (3/8/21) at 7.30pm for all interested parties. I am devastated I cannot make it as I am out of the county by 200 miles, but perhaps some of our angler/environmentalists could be there and report back? My dearly respected Adam Fisher, for example?
 
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