7 April 2021
Reducing phosphate pollution in the River Wye

I love wild swimming, and readers in and around Ross-on-Wye will need no reminding that the River Wye is one of the great glories of Herefordshire and the Marches. Yet the river is under serious threat from phosphate pollution.

Given the Wye's extraordinary beauty, its history, and its centrality to the natural environment and ecosystem of the whole region, to say nothing of its importance to tourism and leisure, and the wider economy of the county, the case for action is beyond doubt.

Excessive phosphate levels have different causes: there are high levels embedded in the soils of the Upper and Lower Wye catchments; there are specific impacts from chicken litter, there are impacts from discharges of effluent waste.

The problem is sufficiently bad that the River Lugg has failed its "favourable condition" status, and on the advice of Natural England, Herefordshire Council have imposed a moratorium on building developments.

So, what to do? The problem is easy to see, hard to solve: the Wye runs through Wales and England; there are different county councils, and different agencies with overlapping responsibilities on both sides of the border; they apply different standards and approaches; and there is little central drive or coordination to their efforts.

Yet the river knows no borders; phosphate in the upper Wye spreads its pollution over the length of the river, right down to Ross and beyond. We therefore need a coordinated and integrated approach, from source to estuary.

We need to learn from other counties, where some rivers are still worse affected. Solent, Somerset, and Kent have all been placed under planning restrictions, in response to rising phosphate levels.

Somerset planners now use a phosphates calculator to determine a "phosphorus budget" for proposed developments and assess the various mitigation options if the proposals are not phosphorous neutral.

Solent and Kent have established stakeholder forums which bring local planning authorities, developers, DEFRA and MHCLG, the NFU, Homes England and business to share ideas.

I have been working on this for many months. We have convened a group of local MPs, and briefed ministers. We are bringing the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and Natural England together, working with Herefordshire Council and drawing on the excellent work of the Nutrient Management Board to develop a shared plan.

Welsh Water are next up. Soon we will approach the Welsh and UK Governments. But we all need to do more, faster.

First published in the Ross Gazette