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Legal challenge over river Wye pollution finds in favour of government

Scientist in protective suit takes water for analysis from polluted river. Copyright: kosmos111 shutterstock

Scientist in protective suit takes water for analysis from polluted river. Copyright: kosmos111 shutterstock

A judge has sided with the government in a legal challenge brought by environmental campaigners regarding agricultural pollution in the River Wye. The judicial review, initiated by River Action and heard in February 2024, questioned whether the Environment Agency (EA) had acted lawfully concerning nutrient pollution from farms into nearby rivers. 

River Action's legal team argued that the EA failed to enforce the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW), regulations from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). These rules prohibit adding more fertiliser to farmland than necessary, with violations constituting a criminal offense. 

The River Wye, which spans approximately 150 miles along the England-Wales border, has been at the center of this dispute. Lawyers for the EA argued that warning letters had been sent to potential violators of FRfW and that this constitutes a fulfillment of its duties. 

Charles Watson, chair and founder of River Action, expressed ongoing concerns:

"We remain concerned that there is widespread evidence that agricultural regulations are still being broken across the Wye catchment...River Action is simply not prepared to sit back and continue to watch these injustices to our rivers continue. Accordingly, we are taking immediate advice with regards to appealing the judgment." 

The High Court hearing in Cardiff spanned two days in February. The judge acknowledged that evidence from the National Farmers Union (NFU) demonstrated that agricultural practices would need to change to meet the interpretation of the regulations as described by River Action and the NFU. The judge acknowledged this would involve significant operational adjustments and costs for farmers. 

Published Wednesday 19 June 2024

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