THE unique beauty and wildlife value of the river Wye and its Herefordshire tributaries cannot be denied – but nor can their worsening environmental condition.

The problem arises from the volume of nutrients, particularly phosphates, entering into rivers from farms and sewage plants, leading to 'blooms' of algae that smother vegetation and take oxygen from the water, killing fish.

It also affects local people. It makes visiting, swimming and angling in the river less appealing.

And since summer 2019, it has also prevented the building of more than 1,500 much-needed homes and other facilities in the county, as government agency Natural England has said it will not support planned developments that would lead to more phosphates entering the river system.

It is profoundly worrying to find the Wye, one of England's most beautiful and most important in terms of nature conservation.


Save The Wye logo

Save The Wye logo


The river is, of course, held in great affection by the people of Herefordshire and the Borders.

That is why today, as part of our new monthly print supplement focusing on the environment and the dangers of climate change, we are launching our Save The Wye campaign (which includes one of the river's key tributaries, the Lugg).

Our aim is to draw more attention to its plight and press the authorities for co-ordinated action to address the causes of the pollution. We do not expect an easy solution – it is likely to be many years before the Wye is clear again – but we do demand an urgent and concerted effort from all parties involved.

Herefordshire South and Hereford MP Jesse Norman has frequently raised his concerns about the Wye and earlier this month won government backing for measures to address it.

He said: “I am delighted that the Hereford Times is lending its considerable voice and heft to our vital campaign to clean up the Wye.

“We will only solve this problem if everyone can work together in an integrated and long-term way. Politicians and government must play their part, as well as councils and agencies.

“The Hereford Times will help the wider public to be better informed, and it will help this directly involved to stay focused on the long-term goal of cleansing up the river from source to mouth.”

Hereford Times: The river Lugg is a tributary of the WyeThe river Lugg is a tributary of the Wye

In theory the river system should already have the highest level of protection. The catchment of the Wye and that of the Lugg together form a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), while both rivers are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

But last December, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said 60 per cent of the Wye and its catchments fail against official SAC targets. Further 'citizen science' monitoring along the river has also regularly shown pollution levels well above the targets.

In June, Mr Norman took NRW, Natural England and the Environment Agency to task for what he said was their “seriously inadequate” response to the problem due, he said, to a lack of overall leadership.

Herefordshire Council leader Coun David Hitchiner also criticised the agencies, saying that those on the English side “have been forthcoming with a solution”, while NRW “has been even less effective in Wales”.

However, the pollution of the Wye is perhaps only the high-profile example of a nationwide problem. The RSPB published a report last month highlighting what it said were major underlying issues impacting water quality across the UK.

It called for systemic change to the planning system, more sustainable farming (and eating), legally binding targets for biodiversity and freshwater quality, and an end to water companies’ release of raw sewage into watercourses.

It also demanded that government agencies be adequately resourced to monitor and inspect, and to enforce existing regulations, saying funding for monitoring alone has fallen by more than half in a decade.

Only action across several fronts appears likely to turn the problem around and give the county back rivers to once again be proud of.