Campaigners gathered to make their feelings known today as a court case begins on an alleged failure to address pollution in the river Wye.

The campaign group River Action has brought a judicial review hearing over what it claims is the Environment Agency’s failure to protect the river Wye from farm pollution.

A judicial review is when the government, a local authority or agency is investigated for allegedly breaking their own rules.


River Action says the EA has failed to enforce the so-called farming rules for water introduced in 2018, and that it has instead “slavishly followed” guidance from the environment secretary discouraging this.

Failure to address pollution from farms, particularly from manure applied to nutrient-saturated soils, is “the prime cause of the recent ecological collapse of the river Wye”, it claims.

The case is being heard at Cardiff’s Civil Justice Centre, where chair and founder of River Action Charles Watson was joined this morning by a ten-foot-tall “Goddess of the Wye”, a steel drumming band, and river campaigner and former Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey.

“If the law to prevent nutrient oversaturation had been properly enforced, then the horrendous pollution of the Wye catchment could have largely been prevented,” Mr Watson said.


“We believe lobbying by the National Farmers Union led to Defra [EA parent body the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs] instructing the EA to ignore enforcing this critical protection.”

The NFU has confirmed it will make representations at the hearing. 

Its deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “The NFU recognises the need to protect the environment; however, we also believe it is important that legislation is interpreted and applied correctly and proportionately.

“We hope our intervention in the case will bring about much-needed clarity on how the Farming Rules for Water should be interpreted.”

Anglers' group Fish Legal is meanwhile is taking action against what it claims is Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) failure to meet its statutory responsibility to protect the Wye and its tributaries over the Welsh border.