Jesse Norman (Conservative - Hereford and South Herefordshire)
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to improve water quality in the river Wye.
Rebecca Pow - Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
24 January 2022
The Wye catchment area is internationally important for biodiversity, principally due to the wide range of rare river wildlife. This Government is committed to restoring water quality across the country, which is closely linked with our legally binding target to halt the decline in nature by 2030 under the Environment Act.
Natural England, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and other partners are working together to find effective solutions to restore the River Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to a favourable condition. These measures are set out in the Nutrient Management Plan and the Phosphate Action Plan. The Nutrient Management Board meets quarterly to identify and review actions that achieve the phosphorus conservation target of the River Wye Special Area of Conservation, supported by a Technical Advisory Group.
In addition, we are almost doubling funding for the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. This extra £17 million will allow all farms in England, including those in the Wye catchment, access to free 1-2-1 advice and support farmers to help them reduce water and air pollution through management of farmyard manure and soils, among other things. We have also recently increased funding to the Environment Agency for 50 new farm inspectors. These will be targeted at high-risk catchments such as the Wye. Our future farming programme will further support this, such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive which will open this year and focus on supporting actions that farmers can take to improve soil health and manage their nutrients sustainably.
This Government is also the first to take action to tackle the historic infrastructure issue of sewage overflows by publishing a new draft set of strategic priorities for Ofwat, the financial regulator for the water industry. In this publication, the Government set out its expectation that water companies must take steps to "significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows." The landmark Environment Act has placed our ambition on a statutory footing, setting a duty for water companies to achieve a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from Storm Overflows.