Government Faces Legal Challenge for Failing to Protect the Rivers Wye & Lugg

The Angling Trust; WWF-UK and Fish Legal have been granted permission by the High Court to seek a judicial review of the government’s failure to protect some of England’s most precious rivers from agricultural and other pollution. The case includes the River Wye and its tributary the River Lugg, which are designated a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to the rare species such as various types of Lamphrey, the Atlantic salmon and the native white clawed crayfish, that can be found in its waters and which use the River Wye catchment area as a breeding ground. In 2011 the River Wye was declared the “Nation’s Favourite River” and plays an important role not just in providing fresh drinking water for local communities, including Hereford City residents, but also in generating employment and income for the County.

The angling and conservation charities are challenging the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency over the alleged breach of their legal duty to protect habitats known as ‘Natura 2000’ sites. These sites were identified as important habitats for rare species, but increasing pollution from agriculture and other human activity, is killing fish and other wildlife that live there. Under European Law, called the Water Framework Directive (WFD), governments across Europe were obliged to clean up the most vulnerable habitats by December 2015. The UK Government to date has failed to achieve the good qualitative and quantitative water status required under this legislation. Organisations such as the The Wye & Usk Foundation have been trying to educate farmers and undertake remedial action to improve these river habitats with some success. However, more needs to be done by Government, especially when Herefordshire Council’s own Core Strategy and the increase in planning permission for intensive poultry units within Herefordshire both risk further negative impacts on these rivers.

According to the WWF-UK 87% or 50 out of the 57 rivers and wetland areas, remain affected by pollution from agricultural activities. David Nussbaum the chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “Not only are they vital for important species, such as Atlantic salmon, bullhead fish, bittern and kingfisher, but they are also important for recreational activities, such as fishing, walking and bird watching, which provide a vital income for rural communities. We are calling on the government to use the tools at its disposal to tackle the issue.”

The chief executive for the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, Mark Lloyd said: “Poor land management is causing soils carrying nutrients and pesticides to wash into our precious rivers, seriously harming some of our most important fish species, such as Atlantic salmon, stocks of which have plummeted in recent years. This pollution is not only bad for fish and wildlife, but also anglers who contribute billions to the economy every year. We must ensure the necessary measures are in place to stop this pollution, and give our rivers and lakes a chance to recover and thrive.”

The Environment Agency highlighted in 2009 that its preferred option for reducing pollution was to form water protection zones if voluntary measures were unsuccessful. At the same time the Herefordshire Council’s own Water Cycle Study (Sept 2009) highlighted “34 of the 51 Sewage Treatment Works (STWs) identified under the ownership of Dwr Cymru Welsh Water have operational constraints, and are at the limit of their capacity. This includes all of the main market town STWs with the exception of Ross on Wye, which is reported to have some 1600 household headroom capacity (4000 p.e.). Following recent AMP4 upgrading due for completion March 2010, Rotherwas and Eign STWs will have headroom capacity for some 3800 homes. This is a significant shortfall on the predicted balance of 5369 required in Hereford by 2026”.

The case is expected to be heard in court later this year. If the groups are successful in their challenge the government would be forced to clearly state how they will address the pollution levels to bring the habitats back into “favourable status”.

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