Gazette readers will need no reminder of how important the River Wye is to the identity not just of Ross-on-Wye – the clue is in the name – but to the whole region. As I highlighted recently in the House of Commons, this is a priceless national asset which we must do everything we can to protect and enhance in the face of serious phosphate and nitrate pollution.
It was evident last weekend just how bad that pollution is, when on a freezing morning I went out with a band of intrepid local folks to test water samples. Alan, Maggie and Steve ran a whole series of visual assessments and chemical assays at three different points along a brook feeding the river. All the readings were above the highest permissible limits, in some cases many times over. I watched carefully while they entered the data into a special mobile phone app and then took a photograph of the final site.
The three of them have been taking readings for over six months, and as we warmed up gratefully over a cup of hot coffee and delicious cake afterwards —thank you, Sandra! — it was clear they would be doing so throughout the winter.
This was in Hereford, but it might have been in Ross or Hay or Builth or Monmouth or dozens of other places up and down the river. Such has been the indignation of local people at the levels of pollution that hundreds of them have come together into a citizen army of testers usefully coordinated by the Environment Agency.
Yet while I marvelled at this wonderful example of citizens in action, and looked forward to my next visit to join other testers along the river, I also found myself filled with frustration. This is a complex problem. But in principle at least, the solution is not hard to see: a single cross-border task force bringing the full energies of the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales together in a combined effort to develop a clean-up strategy along the whole length of the river. But so far at least, we have not seen anything like the sense of urgency that is needed.
Truly, it is time for these agencies to step up to the mark. 'Till then, any would-be testers around Ross are welcome to contact the excellent Friends of the Lower Wye through their Facebook page, or by emailing email@example.com.
First published in the Ross Gazette, 1 Dec 2021