HEREFORDSHIRE has sent out an urgent request to government for ‘more boots on the ground’ to tackle phosphate issues in the River Wye catchment, which could be subject to water protection zoning if current regulation continues to fail.

A letter to Environment Secretary George Eustace has requested urgent intervention and immediate resourcing for statutory agencies to address the issues phosphate overload ravaging Herefordshire.

Herefordshire Council’s coalition leader David Hitchiner wrote: "Currently, the Environment Agency has only four officers to do all its regulatory work across the whole of the West Midlands, equating to 0.8 of an officer for Herefordshire – it’s not enough. We urgently need more boots on the ground; a simpler regulatory regime, more data, a better understanding of the issues and the speedy delivery of phosphate reduction measures.

"We need a sturdy regulatory floor with a full commitment to enforcing existing regulations to bring the watercourse back into compliance. If the existing regulation is found to fail then there is only one course left; which is to impose a water protection zone for the catchment."

In October 2019, Herefordshire Council took legal advice after Natural England advised that the 2014 Nutrient Management Plan was no longer able to provide certainty that the River Lugg, tributary of the River Wye Special Area of Conservation, would meet its favourable condition status by 2027 due to phosphate pollution. Since then the council has been unable to approve 1650 housing applications.

Coun Hitchiner said the moratorium directly impacts local communities and their economies; the county’s five year housing land supply projections, and Neighbourhood Development Plans, which have become blocked. By the time the moratorium is lifted investment losses to the construction industry in Herefordshire could be as high as £300 million.

Trying to mitigate the situation Herefordshire Council has purchased land for the construction of integrated constructed wetlands to remove phosphate from small Welsh Water sewage works with no phosphate stripping, and high phosphate yielding land for rewilding. It has also commissioned an Interim Delivery Plan to set out a phosphate calculator, recommend mitigation measures and agree a mechanism for the trading of phosphate credits.

Coun Hitchiner said the council is now aware from recent Welsh Water and Environment Agency modelling that the source of phosphate pollution is now likely to be 66% or more attributable to agriculture, and likely to increase to 90% when scheduled improvements to sewage works, agreed by OFWAT, were implemented in 2024/5, as a consequence of intensive poultry units.

"The increase in the proliferation of intensive poultry units in the upper catchment in Wales and the resultant application of poultry litter applied to land within both the upper (Welsh) and lower Wye (Herefordshire) catchment cannot be sustainable and we need the intervention of central government to resolve this," he said.