Published On: Thu, Feb 8th, 2024
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Outrage as swimmer’s ‘eyes and throat burn’ from river ‘contaminated with chicken poo’ | UK | News

The government has been accused of allowing chicken poo to pollute one of the UK’s most significant rivers for wildlife.

A woman who used to swim in the river for decades said her “eyes and throat would burn” following a dip, after chicken farms expanded in the area near the River Wye. The river flows for 150 miles near the border of England and Wales.

The area has recently seen a massive expansion of poultry production, as 20 million birds are now being housed near the river at any given time.

Angela Jones, who regularly swims in the river and runs an outdoor adventure business, told Sky News: “I started finding my eyes and throat would burn. You used to be able to look at the different colours in stones below and spot fish a long way off.

“It’s just brown slime now.”

River Action, a campaign group dedicated to addressing river pollution, has accused the Environment Agency of failing to enforce laws that prevent waterways from being harmed by agriculture – something which the government body denies.

At an approaching judicial review at Cardiff’s High court, River Action’s lawyers intend to claim that farmers have been allowed to dispose of chicken waste on their land in quantities the crops and other plants will not be able to cope with. As a result, the waste leaks into surrounding streams, they will say.

Chicken manure is rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, which are useful nutrients to aid in crop growing.

However, high concentrations of it in rivers leads to a rapid growth of algae – which then suffocates plant and animal life.

According to scientists at Lancaster University, about two-thirds of the 3,000 tonnes of phosphorus reaching the River Wye each year come from agriculture.

The group’s founder Charles Watson told Sky News: “If you were building cars and were allowed to do that with all your waste it would be an appalling scandal.

“That’s what’s happening on the Wye. Industrial waste is being dumped into nature and it has been done at such a level that it is now causing an ecological disaster. It has got to stop.”

The River Wye is designated as a special area of conservation and a site of special scientific interest due to its value for wildlife.

The government’s 2018 Farming Rules for Water is designed to protect rivers against such pollution.

The Environment Agency said that between the beginning of April and the end of December last year it carried out 493 farm inspections and issued 285 improvement orders in the area of the River Wye and its tributaries. has contacted the Environment Agency for comment.

It said in a statement to the Guardian: “We are unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings. Anyone caught breaching environmental laws faces enforcement action, up to and including prosecution.”

The Environment Agency is also investigating “at least” another 20 pollution incidents.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says there was one prosecution under the 2018 act in the area, in 2023.

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