THE River Wye is facing an "ecological disaster" because of manure from chicken farms in Powys, environment groups have warned.

The UK's fifth-longest river has turned green because of a proliferation of algae, which could prevent sunlight from reaching aquatic plants below the water line, potentially harming fish, birds and invertebrates.

Businesses in Herefordshire have also labelled it as a "disaster" just as the Wye Valley prepares for more visitors after the coronavirus lockdown.

Adam Fisher, owner of Fishers, an angling and clothing store in Ross-on-Wye, said: “For the past three or four years the river has turned a sickly colour and appeared lifeless just as the tourist season starts.

"For the large number visitor-reliant businesses up and down the Wye Valley preparing to resume after the Covid-19 crisis, this is nothing short of a disaster.”

The Wye and Usk Foundation said it believes that a large volume of phosphate, which acts as fertilizer, entering the Wye is contributing to more severe blooms of algae, and says this may relate to the expansion of the poultry industry in Powys.

Simon Evans, chief executive of the Wye and Usk Foundation, said: "Both Powys County Council and Natural Resources Wales have a legal responsibility to protect Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) like the Wye, but apparently have been unwilling to use the existing laws to protect the river from the nation’s desire to eat more free range eggs.

"In the case of Powys County Council, this includes considering the impact of new poultry developments individually and cumulatively. Evidently, this is something that is not happening.”

“The result is a river, once voted the UK’s favourite, turning a putrid green every summer and having its ecology destroyed.

"Despite Welsh Government’s outward desire for sustainability and the protection of future generations, not to mention their legal obligations, there is little appetite to curb the planning excesses and environmental damage arising. This is a disgrace.”

The algal blooms also affect the quantity of oxygen in the water, which when combined with heat can kill fish such as Atlantic salmon, barbel and brown trout.

Since 2008 the catchment of one of the river’s tributaries in Powys now hosts an extra 10 million chickens, producing phosphates from their manures in greater volumes.

Powys Council has changed its planning process in recent months so fewer applications go before a planning committee, leading to criticisms that decisions are concentrated into the hands of individuals.

A Powys Council spokesman said the council is "fully aware" of its duty to enhance biodiversity in areas including the Wye.

“Where planning applications, including those for intensive livestock units, have the potential to impact on the River Wye Special Areas of Conservation, they are assessed, under the habitats regulations, to evaluate their acceptability," the spokesman said.

“Natural Resources Wales, as the main environmental regulatory body for Wales, also carefully reviews such applications and in some instances also requires developers to obtain an Environmental Permit.

“All planning applications are publicised and we welcome any comments or evidence on their potential impacts on the environment, or other matters, so that these can be fully considered as part of the application’s determination.”

Both Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Welsh Government were asked to comment.