Afonydd Cymru, the representative body for Wales’s six Rivers Trusts, has today submitted a complaint to the European Commission (EC) about the Welsh Government’s performance on managing agricultural pollution. The NGO alleges that the government has failed to put appropriate regulation, enforcement and other measures and support in place to comply with standards set by European environmental legislation. The Water Framework Directive states that deteriorations in water quality must not happen and the UK government has already included the Directive in our own legislation.

Over past decade, the dairy, beef industry has intensified and the poultry industry has expanded by over 1000% in Wales. The complaint claims that national policy and local government planning has consistently avoided the requirement for applicants to put in controls to avoid consequential water pollution. It goes on to argue that huge quantities of slurry and poultry manure are spread on farm land and that the rules and guidelines governing how this should be done are invariably broken. These state that spreading on slopes, in wet weather and during winter should be avoided and limited amounts only should be spread.
However, the complaint focusses on damage to the Special Areas of Conservation rivers: Tywi, Cleddau, Teifi and Wye as well as other catchments in West Wales. It claims that spreading has taken place almost daily since Christmas and in quantities far above recommended or safe levels. Welsh Government had previously promised to act and agreed that whatever is put in place will apply right across Wales. Despite this, the complaint states that little more than lax, unenforced voluntary arrangements remain and another winter of slurry spreading will again have polluted these rivers.

Slurry being discharged down a slope to a river © Afonydd Cymru

Commenting on the complaint to the EC, Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Afonydd Cymru said: “Despite Wales having some of the best environmental legislation in the world, we have some of the poorest outcomes for our rivers. No thought is given as to how the intensification in dairy, beef or poultry industry will affect our environment. It is now a familiar sight to see excessive algal growth and bright green rivers in the summer wherever this type of farming takes place. These are symptoms of excessive phosphate levels resulting from the spreading of manure on an industrial scale. The smell locally can be intolerable to many people”

(Top) Run-off from free range poultry sheds including highly reactive phosphates from poultry manure. (Bottom) Rain on a bare maize field. © Afonydd Cymru

He added: “The promise of sustainable management of our natural resources has not been applied to farming. Valuable fish populations, especially salmon, have declined to such an extent that Natural Resources Wales has produced a draconian set of bylaws. Sadly, these will not deal with the cause of the problem and fisheries in parts of Wales will simply cease altogether.
The cost of water purification is borne by the water rate payers, so here in Wales, the polluter doesn’t pay and instead is allowed a competitive advantage by cutting costs and using rivers to dispose of unwanted effluent.”