River Wye Water Quality

Closes 31 Mar 2024

Opened 5 Apr 2022

Overview

Welcome to this information page which explains the Environment Agency’s analysis, activities and plans to improve water quality, reduce excess nutrients, and help improve environments in the Wye and Lugg river catchments.  

Whilst this focuses on the Environment Agency’s work, there are many key organisations and community groups involved. They are helping monitor water quality, planning and taking actions to reduce nutrients and support river recovery, and supporting others to have a role. Links are provided below to our partners’ websites. 

This page will be updated with new data (quarterly), actions taken, trends, information and case studies on the Environment Agency’s work. 

To report a pollution incident, if you observe an algal bloom or if you see fish in distress call the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 or email ics@environment-agency.gov.uk with details of the issue, location and ideally photographs. Please note that if you live in England but close to the Welsh border, you may be automatically redirected to Natural Resource Wales’ incident hotline when calling the above number. In this case we recommend utilising our email address, detailed above, instead. 

Information for citizen scientists sampling water quality is below.

Contents:

Current status - temperature and algal bloom warning system

Latest news

Latest webpage updates

Current situation

Which organisations are working together?

Role of the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales

Evidence

Actions ongoing

Citizen science programme

Additional information / FAQs

Current Status - Temperature and Algal Bloom Warning System

  • The Environment Agency have currently evaluated the warning system at ‘green’ due to current river temperatures.
  • Please see below section "warning system" for further information.

Latest news - August 2022

  • In August we released our latest monitoring report (River Wye Management Catchment Integrated Data Analysis Report), see below. This is the third version of the report and succeeds the May 2022 report. In this latest version.
  • In this latest report we give more detail on incident reports, RAPPER analysis method and RePhoKUs Project
  • We will include an analysis of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s detailed times series data for sewer overflows across the catchment in future reports. We will also undertake an analysis of river flow in relation to phosphate levels.
  • Updated information on abstraction (below)
  • Updated Citizen Scientist FAQs (below)

More Information

  • Algae occur naturally in inland waters such as rivers, streams and lakes.
  • Algal blooms as seen on the River Wye and River Lugg are caused by a number of factors that include nutrient enrichment, environmental factors (sunny warm weather and low flows), hydrodynamics, microbes and biodiversity.
  • The Environment Agency is continuing to monitor the river. We have equipment specifically deployed recently to monitor river temperatures and quality – in addition to routine monitoring. We continue to work with partners on long term actions to improve water quality.
  • The Environment Agency will continue to take water samples to identify the types of algae that are responsible for blooms and will communicate those results. If we suspect the presence of any toxic algae, further advice and guidance will be issued.
  • If you suspect pollution, witness impacts due to an algal bloom, see dead fish, fish in distress or fish gasping at the water surface please contact the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 or email ics@environment-agency.gov.uk so that we can investigate, and issue advice and guidance where necessary.
  • Advice on algal blooms for landowners and members of the public is available here

Current situation

The Environment Agency is concerned about high phosphate levels in the Wye and Lugg catchments. We are working closely with a range of stakeholders and partners to address these concerns.  

Phosphate originates from two main sources. These are discharges from sewage treatment works which are regulated through Environmental Permits and from diffuse agricultural pollution, principally from livestock manure and nutrients washing into the river during rainfall events. More than 60% of phosphate (varying across the catchment) entering rivers is from agriculture

Which organisations are working together?

The Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Herefordshire Council, Powys Council, and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water all work together on the River Wye Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) (and associated Action Plan). The NMP Board and Technical Advisory Group involves key stakeholders (including water companies and farming support organisations and local authorities). 

We are working together to address the causes and impacts of high phosphate levels, through a combination of advice and guidance, regulation and the delivery of projects to reduce phosphate inputs. 

As part of our advisory role, the Environment Agency is a partner in Farm Herefordshire - a group of organisations set up to support the farming community in delivering Nutrient Management Plan objectives, particularly from agricultural diffuse pollution. Further details can be found here: http://wyecatchment.org/farm-herefordshire/   

We also regulate the agriculture and water industries so our work includes targeted agricultural visits and working with Dwr Cymru Welsh Water to reduce phosphate in the catchment from sewage treatment works. 

Role of the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales

The Environment Agency's role is to:

  • To regulate the activities that have the biggest effect on water quality in our rivers, primarily the water and sewerage companies, farmers and industry. 
  • To set permitting rules of water companies (and others) and monitor and enforce these.  
  • Monitor data and track intelligence to target agricultural regulatory and enforcement activity.  
  • Understand and track the quality of the river.  
  • Work with farmers to drive better compliance and tackle inadequate farm infrastructure and poor soil and nutrient management.  
  • To be involved in partnership projects, protecting and enhancing water quality through Water Framework Directive and River Basin Management Plans.

More Information

  • To monitor the condition of the River Wye and ensure habitat features are in a healthy state and being conserved by appropriate management.  

  • To assess whether proposals to carry out operations within a SSSI have a positive or negative effect on the condition of a site. 

  • Advise Herefordshire Council and Gloucestershire County Council on their Local Nature Recovery Strategy. 

  • Advice and approval for grants to delivery improvements for air and water quality through the joint Natural England/Environment Agency Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme, as well advice to farmers through Agri-environment agreements.  

  • See Designated Sites information

More Information

  • To manage the environment in the most beneficial way, taking account of social, economic and environmental needs.  

  • To regulate and to protect people and the environment by ensuring that businesses and individuals operate within the law when their actions impact on the environment. For water quality this means setting rules and regulating water companies, farmers, developers and industry, 

  • As a statutory consultee for planning applications, providing advice on how a development may affect the environment. This includes possible damage to important habitats, wildlife, rivers and landscapes,. 

  • To gather evidence to develop our knowledge of the environment in Wales, in conjunction with a wide range of partners. This includes running sampling and monitoring programmes  

  • Advise the Welsh Government, to industry and to the wider public and voluntary sector - advising on​ how new policies, legislation, developments and their day to day work affects the environment.  

  • See Water Watch Wales maps 

Evidence

To appropriately focus everyone’s resources and actions on reducing nutrients entering the rivers, we need to understand nutrient levels and how phosphate is moving - runoff from fields but also through drainage systems. The soil chemistry is another area under investigation – for example even if we stopped adding more phosphate immediately phosphate could still be leaching out for many years. 

The Environment Agency will release a quarterly report analysing catchment data from multiple sources. This is vital evidence to show what is happening in the catchment and determine priority actions. 

We recognise – and are grateful – that many people are keen to support efforts to improve the water in the Wye and Lugg catchments through Citizen Science initiatives.  

The data obtained by Citizen Science groups will complement existing Environment Agency monitoring and data.   

All the information, from the Environment Agency and Citizen Scientists, will inform how we plan and prioritise activity across the entire catchment and will determine the locations where our resources are most needed and can have the most impact. 

We have also sought independent evidence through the recent RePhoKus project by Lancaster University which carried out a system level analysis of phosphate in the catchment. Details are due to be published soon.  

The Environment Agency’s River Wye Management Catchment Integrated Data Analysis Report 

We will bring data from monitoring sondes and autosamplers together with existing datasets four times a year to answer the following questions to contribute to a shared understanding and ownership among all stakeholders of the issues and actions required:  

   1. What are the main variables contributing to algal blooms in the Wye?  

   2. What other ecological and water quality issues does the data show?  

        a. When did these occur?  

        b. Where did these occur?  

   3. Which locations, sectors and activities were responsible for the ecological and water quality issues identified in the data?  

   4. What recommendations can be made for regulatory, partnership and industry sector actions to prevent the reoccurrence of ecological and water quality issues identified in the data?  

The full report can be downloaded here. A detailed summary is below (after the visual summary) .

More Information

Additional data and analysis

There is a large amount of Citizen Science monitoring that has taken place within the Wye Management Catchment by third parties in the past year. We will continue to analyse Citizen Science data in future reports and expect that the usefulness of this data will grow even more when all sites have at least a full year’s worth of data by autumn 2022. We aim to integrate this data more with incident report intelligence in future reports.

We are looking at how we can incorporate the findings from RePhoKUs into our modelling work with partners to identify the areas of the catchment presenting the highest risk of nutrient input to watercourses. We are also funding Catchment Partnership projects to investigate land drains and understand whether the lab findings regarding soil type vulnerabilities to leaching phosphate are confirmed in the field.

Further work is also required to assess the sources of nutrient uptake to macrophytes and algae which are not detectable by water column monitoring. Sediment sampling especially, should be explored to fill this gap in understanding. We will pursue all available funding and delivery routes for this, including asking for support from partners where our resources do not allow us to undertake the desired sampling.

Describing the habitat through Habscore and River Habitat Surveys would help in understanding the interplay between the physical conditions and biological communities and contribute to understanding the impacts of climate change on habitat availability. We will pursue all available funding and delivery routes for this, including asking for support from partners where our resources do not allow us to undertake the desired sampling.

More detailed time series data on volumes spilled by CSOs is required to rigorously assess the relative contribution that such sources play. Dwr Cymru Welsh Water have shared this information with us and we aim to analyse it for future reports. Detailed information on the movements of manure and wastes spread to land is needed to be able to understand the impacts of activities that generate these materials. We are investigating the options available to obtain this information.

 

Targeting Regulatory and Partnership Action

While more information is still required to provide more detailed recommendations to support targeted action, we can recommend the following: 

Significant reduction in nutrient input from all sources is required across the whole catchment to contribute to the recovery of river macrophytes. Reducing run-off and leaching of nutrients from land during summer rainfall events when dilution is low and temperatures are high is an important element of this remedial activity. 

The RePhoKUs project (Withers, et al., 2022) concluded that eliminating the agricultural phosphorus surplus and drawing down the existing phosphate from soils to at least the agronomic optimum, and possibly further, is required to achieve water quality targets in the catchment, which may take about a decade. 

Investigations into the sources of pollution events on the River Wye in Hereford should be carried out to identify areas for investment to prevent reoccurrence of the events inputting ammonium and phosphate to the river captured by the sondes and Citizen Scientists. 

Efforts to increase shade by tree planting and better management of riparian trees could help mitigate high temperatures. We have developed a high temperature and algal bloom early warning system to enable us to respond to excessive temperatures with advice for anglers and river users and extra monitoring. 

Taking a catchment-based approach, all contributing partners in the Wye Management Catchment could target investigations, analysis and remedial actions in key focus catchments that meet the following criteria:
  • As far upstream as possible
  • High phosphate concentrations relative to the wider catchment, taking the size of watercourse into account
  • A high proportion of the following factors and drivers are present:
  • Arable land use
  • Maize
  • Poultry sheds
  • Anaerobic digesters
  • Sewage treatment works
  • Combined sewer overflows
  • Macrophytes status less than good and indicative of eutrophication
  • Declining Atlantic salmon populations
  • Land allocated for development to which
  • Nutrient Neutrality guidance applies
  • Active Citizen Science groups
  • Active partnership projects
Based on these criteria the following functional groups of waterbodies seem most suitable initially:
  1. River Arrow near Kington
  2. River Arrow near Pembridge and Curl Brook
  3. River Lugg and tributaries near Presteigne
  4. Little Lugg and Withington Marsh
  5. Brook River Frome

Further investigations in partnership should include understanding the pathways and impacts of manures and wastes that are spread to land and a comprehensive appraisal of options to mitigate the impacts of poor water quality, including whether we could manage water resources differently to create more dilution. 

Where Citizen Scientists can support the efforts of land managers and discharge operators to reduce the impact of their operations by undertaking targeted monitoring and evaluation in response to identified high nutrient events, we would encourage them to do so, following the guidance we have previously shared on safe and effective monitoring. 

Summary of Conclusions 

This includes and builds on conclusions drawn from previous reports

We can currently conclude, based on the latest available data, that:  

1. What are the main variables contributing to algal blooms in the Wye?
  • Significant algal growth occurs on the main River Wye during the summer. A large amount is filamentous algae and diatoms covering the riverbed. The relative proportion of riverbed to free floating algal growth is currently unknown.
  • Excessively high summer water temperatures on the main River Wye are a major contributing factor to this algal growth.
  • Water column phosphate concentrations appear to increase temporarily prior to this algal growth, following summer rainfall events, while river flows are relatively low. These temporary increases are likely to contribute to the algal growth. More frequent and widespread orthophosphate, total phosphorus, and sediment nutrient data is required in partnership, to continue to build an understanding of contributing factors to these algal blooms.
  • Water column nitrogen concentrations are excessive throughout the catchment, but nitrogen is not the most important nutrient causing algal blooms. If phosphate availability to aquatic plants were low enough, it would limit algal growth.
2. What other ecological and water quality issues does the data show?
  • Salmonid fish populations have declined over the last 10 years, and there has been a shift to the headwaters of the Lugg for the main Atlantic Salmon population in the English sections of the Wye.
  • Invertebrate populations currently appear to be generally healthy, although some smaller tributaries are affected by sedimentation and water quality issues.
  • Macrophyte communities sampled in 2021 show evidence of eutrophication across the whole catchment.
  • Nutrients within the water column are a bigger problem in tributaries than the main Wye. Sediment analysis is needed to build a more complete understanding. Since 2010, there has been an increasing trend in orthophosphate on tributaries of the Wye and an increasing trend in nitrogen across most of the catchment.
  • There have been short-term water quality improvements in some parts of the catchment. However, these are minor compared to the long-term decline and fall short of the SAC and SSSI targets in the Lugg Catchment.
  • Rainfall events correlate with increases in phosphate and turbidity across the whole Wye Management Catchment, confirming that diffuse pollution is a component of water quality issues in the catchment.
  • Our sondes have detected ammonium peaks in Hereford that correspond with rainfall and high Citizen Science phosphate readings. We are investigating further. Ammonium is an ion that contains nitrogen and is a component of nitrogen inputs to the catchment. 
3. Which locations, sectors and activities were responsible for the ecological and water quality issues identified in the data?
  • Analysis of Citizen Science data collected since the start of 2021, and new incidents reported since October 2021, supports and enhances the analysis of Environment Agency data.
  • Arable agriculture, particularly maize and autumn sown crops like winter wheat on permeable soils or those prone to surface-run-off contribute significantly to orthophosphate concentrations.
  • There has been a significant increase in the proportion of land managed as arable since 2016, particularly maize and potato crops, which are more susceptible to soil loss.
  • Sewage treatment works (STW) discharge rates are significant contributing factors to orthophosphate concentrations. STW phosphorus limits are effective in reducing the contribution to orthophosphate concentrations, however, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and agricultural run-off are suspected to contribute towards target exceedance where phosphorus limits are in place.
  • The number of poultry units in a catchment shows a positive but very weak correlation (R2=0.04) with orthophosphate levels and appears to show a stronger link with nitrogen levels and total phosphorus. Total phosphorus data is currently too sparse to demonstrate a causal relationship and this analysis does not account for pathways of impact outside the unit such as spreading of manure or digestate on fields outside the catchment where the poultry units themselves are located. Further investigation is needed to understand the potential source, pathway, and receptor relationships. 
  • Sewage discharge and agriculture account for the largest share of environmental incidents reported to the Environment Agency in the Wye Management Catchment between 01/04/2020 and 30/06/2022. Our regulatory activity has seen an increasing trend in substantiated water pollution incidents since 2015. Most of these incidents and our associated enforcement activities have been related to sewage and agricultural material. There are likely to be many other incidents, particularly after heavy rainfall, that may go unreported. 
4. What recommendations can be made for regulatory, partnership and industry sector actions to prevent the reoccurrence of ecological and water quality issues identified in the data?
  • Taking a catchment-based approach all contributing partners in the Wye Management Catchment could target investigations, analysis and remedial actions in key the five focus areas mentioned in section two above.
  • These five areas have been identified as upstream parts of the catchment with high phosphate concentrations relative to the wider catchment, taking the size of watercourse into account. They also experience a high proportion of the pressures identified in this report.
  • Significant reduction in nutrient input from all sources is required across the whole catchment to contribute to the recovery of river quality including macrophytes. Reducing run-off and leaching of nutrients from land during summer rainfall events when dilution is low, and temperatures are high is an important element of this remedial activity.
  • Investigations into the sources of pollution events on the River Wye in Hereford should be carried out to identify areas for investment to prevent reoccurrence of the events inputting ammonium and phosphate to the river captured by the sondes and Citizen Scientists. 
  • Further investigations in partnership should include understanding the pathways and impacts of manures and wastes that are spread to land and a comprehensive appraisal of options to mitigate the impacts of poor water quality, including whether we could manage existing water resources differently, and seek to identify new options that support water users, including the environment, over the longer term, and potentially provide additional flow for dilution when beneficial to do so.   
  • Where Citizen Scientists can support the efforts of land managers and discharge operators, to reduce the impact of their operations, by targeted monitoring and evaluation in response to identified high nutrient events. We would encourage them to do so and have suggested areas to undertake further monitoring, along with guidance on safe and effective monitoring practices.
  • Efforts to increase shade by tree planting and better management of riparian trees could help mitigate high temperatures. We have developed a high temperature and algal bloom early warning system to enable us to respond to excessive temperatures with advice and extra monitoring.

Future reports

  • We will include an analysis of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s detailed times series data for sewer overflows across the catchment in future reports. We will also undertake an analysis of river flow in relation to phosphate levels.

Incident Reports

  • In this latest report we give more detail on incident reports within the catchment. Reports of environmental incidents from members of the public to the Environment Agency give an indication of the sectors and activities that are contributing to ecological and water quality problems in the English parts of the Wye Management Catchment.
  • The level of our enforcement activity in response to incident reports, reflects the findings of our watershed analysis presented in previous reports that agricultural diffuse pollution and sewage account for the largest share of the water quality problems in the River Wye. Accounting for the impacts of COVID-19 there is also a trend of increasing numbers of substantiated water pollution incidents. The data for 2022 underrepresents the numbers of incidents, which led to enforcement this year, as enforcement actions take time to complete. This data does not include all our enforcement activity, only that which we undertake in response to incident reports.

Public access to our monitoring and environmental data is available at: https://environment.data.gov.uk/water-quality/view/explore  

All our open data is available at: Defra Data Services Platform  

This page has a gallery of easy to use apps for viewing our various open data sources Defra Data Services Platform 

 

Actions ongoing

The Environment Agency’s role is to regulate the water and agricultural industries and monitor water quality.

Regulation

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water is taking action to reduce phosphate in the catchment from sewage treatment works:

  • Dwr Cymr Welsh Water have a funded programme of investment on a number of sewage works in the catchment which will significantly reduce the contribution from sewage works by 2025.
  • Larger sewage treatment works currently have (or will have by 2025) phosphate limits – and for example are adding phosphate strippers.
  • With smaller works, initiatives such as the development of integrated wetlands are helping reduce their phosphate load.

The Environment Agency adopts a targeted regulatory approach – in line with our enforcement and prosecution policy / guidelines and because it is not possible to check every one of the thousands of farms in the catchment.

Our agricultural compliance and regulatory activity uses monitoring data, real time satellite and drone information, runoff-risk maps and intelligence from previous incidents and public reports to identify and target locations at high risk of contributing to nutrient and soil pollution.

  • The New Farming Rules for Water for all farmers in England were introduced by Defra in 2018. The rules are designed to help protect water quality by standardising good farm practices and require farmers to: keep soil on the land; match nutrients to crop; and soil needs; and keep livestock; fertilisers and manures out of the water.
  • Environment Agency farm inspections are advice-led, with officers taking a proportionate approach that uses advice and guidance first, reflects individual circumstances and only seeks sanction where farmers repeatedly fail to take necessary action. 
  • We have reminded farmers that they are legally obliged to test soils and to prevent significant run-off. Any breach of the regulations may result in an investigation and enforcement action being considered.  
  • Defra funding nationally has allowed the recruitment of additional office to regulate agricultural activity – including 4 permanent posts focused on the River Wye catchments. Officers will be increasing farm visits, focusing on high-risk locations and previously non-compliant businesses.  

An extensive programme of advisory and support work is delivered by catchment Sensitive Farming and catchment partners, including the Wye and Usk Foundation, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and Farm Herefordshire to reduce agricultural sources of pollution to the River Wye. 

 

Temperature and algal bloom warning system

Current status

  • The Environment Agency have currently evaluated the warning system at green’ due to the current river temperatures. Please take note of our advice for anglers below:
  • Take care over fish welfare, particularly for more sensitive species, including salmon, sea trout, brown trout, grayling, pike and barbel.  
  • Take care when playing, landing and releasing salmon and sea trout as we approach the end of the season. The fish have had stressful experiences due to the prolonged high temperatures and have been in the river for many months. They require extra care when returned so that they survive and continue their journey.  
  • Unhook fish in the water if possible and only take them out of the water if entirely necessary.  
  • Take photos of fish in the water - keeping a fish in the air, even for a few seconds, can greatly reduce its chances of surviving after capture and going on to spawn successfully.
  • It is likely that fungal infections and lesions on salmon and sea trout may be more prevalent this year as we approach spawning time. Please do not remove any dead or dying fish from the river. If you see dead fish or fish in distress please report immediately with details to our 24-hour incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60, or email ics@environment-agency.gov.uk.

What is happening?  

  • The River Wye is a Special Area of Conservation, an important salmon fishery, and a statutory navigation. 
  • In recent years the river has experienced episodes of excessively high summer water temperatures which is associated with increased algal blooms. 
  •  Algal blooms occur during periods of warm, settled, dry weather. We recognise that nutrient levels, such as those from agricultural pollution, increase the chances of algae developing.  
  • Algae are plants that change the water chemistry by fluctuating the levels of pH and dissolved oxygen. Algal blooms are harmful to the river habitat as they block sunlight from reaching plants in the water and use up oxygen in the water at night, which can suffocate fish and other wildlife. 
  • Changes in water temperatures, algae composition and dissolved oxygen can stress or kill fish and contribute to ecological decline in the river, particularly among other aquatic plant communities. 
  • There are many types of algae. Some pose a small risk to human and animal health through direct contact with them, although these are usually blue-green algae which are more commonly associated with still waters rather than watercourses like the River Wye.   

What is the Environment Agency doing about it? 

  • The Environment Agency is continuing to assess the river temperature and water quality and has deployed monitoring equipment to do so. 
  • We have developed a warning system to enable us to scale up our monitoring, incident planning and response, and inform stakeholders if there are high water temperatures and/or possible algal blooms. There are three phases which recognise the different scale of response needed depending on severity of the issue (red, amber, and green). 
  • As well as monitoring temperature, the Environment Agency monitors the levels of chlorophyll within the water column to identify environmental impacts of algal blooms and is taking samples to determine the species of algae present. 
  • Depending on the trigger and phase of the plan, key messages will be communicated to stakeholders, such as angling clubs, landowners and abstractors. Messages will include advice and whether action is needed, for example by reducing angling or using alternative water supplies. 
  • Our monitoring equipment will also allow us to provide further evidence that will assist our water quality investigations. 
  • In the longer term, the Environment Agency is working with Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, water companies, farmers, conservation organisations and local authorities, to continue to address the causes and impacts of poor water quality in the River Wye through regulation and pro-active partnership projects.  

Monitoring sondes 

  • There are currently 11 sondes deployed across the Wye, Arrow, and Lugg catchments that are providing continuous water quality monitoring to improve our understanding of the current water ecology.
  • As river levels begin to rise over the coming months due to increased rainfall, we will be removing the sondes so that they do not become damaged during higher flows. 
  • This means that our continuous water quality monitoring will stop, and live data will no longer be available. We don’t have a date for when this will happen, but we are aiming to keep the sondes deployed for as long as possible until rainfall events become more frequent.
  • We hope to be able to deploy the sondes again next year and are exploring ways to secure funding to do so.  

How you can help  

  • If you see dead fish, fish in distress or gasping at the water surface, please contact the Environment Agency 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 or email ics@environment-agency.gov.uk to report. 
  • Please also use the incident hotline number or email if you suspect pollution or witness impacts due to an algal bloom, so that we can investigate, and issue advice and guidance where necessary. 
  • You can sign up to the alerts or encourage others to sign up to the alert messages by contacting engagement_westmids@environment-agency.gov.uk . 
  • When you receive a change in the alert level, please act accordingly. 

Project Tara:

We are working with the poultry industry to understand the scale of poultry manure production and use in the River Wye catchment. We are also working with the anaerobic digestion and dairy industries for a similar purpose with regards to their manure production and use. We are carrying out regulatory assessments to ensure compliance with the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations and the Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations. These checks aim to ensure that the nutrients within the poultry manure are being utilised effectively for crop production and do not pose a risk of causing diffuse pollution.

Enforcement 

Across the Wye and Lugg catchments in 2021 we carried out 137 inspections in areas at risk of causing diffuse agricultural pollution. The areas were identified using our monitoring network (such as satellite data, Lidar, and drones) and reports of pollution.  

This included: 

  • 101 Farming Rules for Water inspections of high-risk fields and sites  
  • 15 integrated farm inspections including a project focusing on dairy and anaerobic digestion sites  
  • 21 intensive farm inspections including a project focusing on poultry regulation.  

Of the 137 inspections, we used regulatory powers in 36 instances to require land managers to come into compliance. This included providing regulatory advice and guidance and signposting to additional support offered by partner organisations such as the Wye and Usk Foundation. In total we issued ten warning letters.  

We recruited several new officers in the latter half of 2021 to enable more farm visits.

See below Frequently Asked Questions section for more on our monitoring role and our role in intensive poultry units.

 

Partnership and collaborative working 

The Environment Agency is working with a variety of partners in the Wye Catchment to improve water quality. By collaborating on projects that encompass nature-based solutions, we aim to enhance the catchment on aspects such as biodiversity, invasive species and habitat creation. Partners that we have worked with in the past include Wye Valley AONB, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Wye and Usk Foundation and Herefordshire Council. Some of the projects the Environment Agency has been involved in can be found here. We are also active partners in the Wye Catchment Partnership and Farm Herefordshire.  

Additionally, the Wye and Usk Foundation are involved in Woodlands for Water, run by the Riverscapes, that is exploring areas and landowners interested in funded tree planting schemes. The West Midlands Environment Agency Trees for People and Climate are also working with the Wye and Usk Foundation to develop a project to plant trees throughout the catchment via alternate avenues of funding to compliment the above. 

Citizen Science Programme

We are working with a variety of partners in the development and delivery of a Citizen Science monitoring programme. This additional resource will be used to collect water quality data throughout the Wye catchment and will help to identify and prioritise where measures can be targeted to reduce inputs of pollution.  

We politely request Citizen Scientists to follow our data collection and reporting guidance to ensure the data can be used effectively

Where Citizen Science groups identify pollution incidents (including algal bloom, dead fish or fish in distress) these should be reported to the Environment Agency via the 24hr Incident Hotline: 0800 80 70 60 or by emailing ics@environment-agency.gov.uk.

Please do not report high phosphate readings to the incident hotline – report them as usual through the collector app.

Please note the Environment Agency will only attend incidents which are categorised by the Common Incident Classification Scheme (CICS) as serious/significant. Less severe environmental incidents will be recorded on our data systems and used to target investigations, regulation, campaigns, water quality planning, projects and partnership working.

Additional information / FAQs

What is the Environment Agency’s role in monitoring?

The Environment Agency has long term data and trend information on water quality in the English Wye and Lugg and will continue to prioritise this baseline information in the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) waterbodies to support our working.

We aim to be more flexible and agile in where we focus monitoring and investigative resources throughout the wider catchment and we are continuing to develop bespoke monitoring programmes to allow better identification of hotspots and cross-border issues. 

This will enable us to respond more rapidly and effectively when at-risk areas are identified through intelligence from satellite images and other environmental monitoring (for example water quality issues identified during invertebrate and other catchment surveys or use of use of phosphate sondes detectors). 

We plan to also use the results of citizen science and third- party monitoring to add to our catchment knowledge.  

Our data analysis and identification and investigation of how moves through the catchment will allow all partners to plan appropriate advice and regulation measure.  

The Nutrient Management Plan Board considers cross border matters and recognises the need for a coordinated approach to data analysis and monitoring across the Wye/Lugg catchments. Discussions between Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales are underway to develop a suitable programme.    

What is the Environment Agency’s role in intensive pig and poultry farms? 

The planning process is the responsibility of the local planning authority, such as Herefordshire Council for the English part of the River Wye.

The Environment Agency regulates intensive pig and poultry farms and operators must apply for an environmental permit from us if they rear poultry intensively. Intensive poultry farms with a capacity exceeding the threshold of 40,000 birds require a permit under Environmental Permitting Regulations. 

The Environment Agency’s decision whether to grant an environmental permit is separate from the planning process.   

A new development will need to have both planning permission and an environmental permit before it can operate.   It is possible for a site to be granted planning permission and not granted an environmental permit or vice versa.

 

What is the Environment Agency’s role in permitting? 

Certain activities, that could be harmful to the environment, need an environmental permit to operate. The Environment Agency issues these permits to operators that allows them permission to carry out certain types of activities at a specific location with conditions that aim to protect the environment and people’s health. To regulate the permit, the Environment Agency perform inspections to check the operator’s compliance and takes enforcement action if the conditions of the permits are not upheld.  

When considering a permit for an intensive pig or poultry farm, operators must meet requirements of our “How to Comply with your Environmental Permit Intensive Farming” (relevant appendices available here detailing more information on issues such as dust, odour and noise management). Operators must comply with the environmental risk assessment associated with intensive farming, showing that installation environmental impacts are satisfactory. Permit conditions for installations of the Intensive Farming Sector have conditions set out by the Best Available Techniques (BAT) 2017 conclusions. 

The Environment Agency can refuse a permit application in certain circumstances, for example: if we have reason to believe that the operator is not competent to run the regulated facility in accordance with the permit;  the environmental impact would be unacceptable (for instance, an operator might propose siting a new facility close to an extremely sensitive environment, but with no means of providing adequate control); and/or the information provided by the operator does not provide a reasonable basis to determine the permit conditions, taking into account the operator’s responses to requests for more information. The overall guidance for refusing a permit is complex but more information can be found in section 7 (and 7.6 for refusals) on the environmental permitting core guide

Why are new intensive pig and poultry farms being approved given the recognition of a phosphate problem in the Wye catchment? 

The development of a farms and planning are a decision for the local authority. The Environment Agency regulates the operations and emissions from these farms. Careful consideration is made through the permit determination process and farm inspections to ensure compliance with the requirements of Best Available Techniques (BAT) 2017 for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs. We further ensure compliance with How to Comply with your Environmental Permit Intensive Farming guidance standards for clean water and dirty water management at both the permitting and compliance stages.  

For the purposes of a permit assessment/determination, the Environment Agency carries out in-combination Habitats Regulations Assessment for ammonia where a proposed permitted site lies within five kilometres of a designated European site. This process includes consultation with Natural England and Natural Resources Wales where required. This assessment is limited to the impact of ammonia emissions to air. This is due to the scope of the permitting regime, the site boundary for permitted pig and poultry farms typically includes the livestock housing, any yard areas and associated infrastructure but does not routinely include adjacent land. Therefore, the spreading of manures and slurry to land (and the associated potential for water quality impacts) is primarily regulated through other existing regulations (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Regulations and Farming Rules for Water).

Abstraction

In general any abstraction of water (in excess of 20 cubic metres per day) from either a surface water source (river, stream etc.) or groundwater source needs to be authorised under an abstraction permit issued by the Environment Agency (or Natural Resources Wales if in Wales). If farmers have access to a source of these waters, they can apply to us for the appropriate permit. All applications are assessed through a determination process to ensure that the abstraction (if granted) is sustainable and in accordance with the policy set out for the catchment in the relevant Abtraction Licensing Strategy.

The majority of surface water abstraction permits issued most recently include restriction conditions which protect the environment by requiring the abstraction to stop or reduce once the river flow falls below a pre-set threshold. However, there are some older licences that were issued prior to these conditions being used and as such they will be allowed to continue abstracting even though flows are low.

Many farmers also abstract water during the winter months to fill on-farm storage reservoirs. This stored water can then be used freely during the summer periods when it is required for irrigation.

Prolonged low periods of rainfall can lead to a rapid fall in river flows across most of England. We are working with water companies, farmers, and wider stakeholders to monitor water resources and ensure that the needs of water users and the environment are met.

During droughts and prolonged dry weather, we regulate abstractors by imposing restrictions on their licences, issuing drought permits, and scrutinising water company drought plans to ensure they are robust and fit for purpose.

If you are concerned about a specific abstraction, please contact the Environment Agency (or NRW if in Wales) on 0800 80 70 60 or email ics@environment-agency.gov.uk with details of the issue, location and if possiblewith photographs and we can investigate further to ensure that an appropriate permit is in place.

Frequently Asked Questions

We have developed these answers to frequenly asked questions that are currently being asked by citizen scientists.

Enquiries

If you have questions or queries, or you would like to provide feedback to us on any of the information above, you can get in touch with us at enquiries_westmids@environment-agency.gov.uk

Audiences

  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Fishing clubs and representative associations
  • Members of the public with an interest in the river, the species and conservation
  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Statutory organisations
  • NGOs
  • Members of the public
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Local councils
  • Academics
  • All water abstractors
  • Environment Agency customers
  • Net fishing license holders
  • River based salmon angling owners/fishing clubs/organisations
  • Individual migratory salmonid licence holders
  • Business that buy salmon/supported by salmon net and rod fishing
  • National based fishery, conservation and landowner organisations
  • Government family organisations
  • IDBs
  • Local authorities
  • District and parish councils
  • Environmental bodies
  • Land owners
  • Farming associations
  • Drainage associations
  • RFCCs
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Water companies
  • Members of the public
  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Community groups
  • Flood action groups
  • Environment Agency colleagues

Interests

  • Water quality
  • Habitats and wildlife