Yesterday (Tuesday 30 May), Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey met local farmers, councillors, environmental groups, MPs and the Welsh government in Hereford to discuss actions to improve the state of the River Wye. The meeting came as Natural England updated the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) condition assessment for the River Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC) from ‘unfavourable recovering’ to ‘unfavourable declining’, due to a decline in certain types of key wildlife.
The Hereford Times ran an interview with the Environment Secretary in which she outlined the importance of a coordinated approach to driving improvements in the Wye across governments, regulators and the local community. The Environment Secretary also noted that £1.2 million of the £34 million in funding available through the Slurry Infrastructure Grant Scheme has been allocated directly to farms in the Wye catchment, in order to expand storage and prevent unnecessary spreading – ultimately helping to reduce pollution arising from run-off.
The roundtable sought to discuss local concerns and ongoing implementation of actions to address the status of the river, particularly in light of its impact on wildlife. While the River Wye is known as one of the country’s most important sites for salmon fishing and nature conservation, pollution arising from run-off and other sources are leading to formation of algal blooms, harming delicate habitats and nature.
Hosting the meeting, the Environment Secretary set out how restoring the Wye was a priority for both her and all of those in attendance, and outlined how it was important to address each river catchment according to its unique pressures, as part of a consistent approach across the country. She was particularly keen to see how the local council could help facilitate local initiatives to help reduce pollution and to work with the Welsh government too.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:
The River Wye is clearly struggling and it is vital that we turn the tide on its decline. As I set out in our Plan for Water, we need local plans catchment by catchment, community by community to tackle issues that are affecting water quality. Bringing people together from the local communities, it is clear we have a common goal.
“We do all need to work together at a greater pace and with purpose to actively support our farmers and food producers to produce food sustainably and reduce pollution. With the River Wye rising in Wales, it is important to work with the Welsh Government on this issue and I welcome them joining my roundtable today.
As part of the interim condition assessment of the River Wye SAC, Natural England assessed four key features across a number of units throughout the watercourses: Atlantic salmon, macrophytes (aquatic plants), native white-clawed crayfish and water quality. While the latter was found to be stable, numbers of the three species are declining. In accordance with the Common Standard Monitoring Guidance, if any one of the features is classed as ‘unfavourable - declining’, irrespective of the status of the other interest features, the whole unit of the river is reclassified. For more information, go to: Assessing the health of the River Wye and its catchment.
Emma Johnson, Area Manager for the West Midlands, Natural England said:
Any deterioration of river health is worrying for all of us who share a love for our wonderful rivers. This updated assessment does not indicate a sudden decline or single change in the health of the Wye and Lugg; it has come about as the results of changing agricultural and industrial practices, climate change, urbanisation and a growing population over recent decades.
Reducing the pressures on the rivers in the Wye catchment will therefore also require long-term and integrated action: patience, commitment and collaboration across government, regulators, farmers and landowners and the local community.
Natural England will ensure that we, and our partners in the Wye Nutrient Management Board, and partners make full use of the regulatory and voluntary measures at our disposal - whilst also looking at what else can be done to drive forward these improvements, as part of wider efforts to ensure a thriving natural world.