Passion for… A Cleaned Up Wye

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John Bailey

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As we have written before, simply because the hot weather has receded that does not mean that all is well with the Wye, and that the protests over its horrendous treatment will subside. In fact, the opposite is happening. Our inbox is full of outraged mails on a daily basis, and two items have recently stood out.

One is a letter that has been widely circulated, from James Evans, Member of The Welsh Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire. We have highlighted points from the letter that should interest us all…

“What was clear from Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) report into phosphates was that further investigation was needed.” (How much investigation is still needed when so much work has already been done, and the visible evidence is incontrovertible?)

“Regarding the claims about poultry units being behind the pollution incidents along the Wye, I note NRW’s investigation found that the overall pattern of failures in the Wye did not support the argument that poultry units are the main reason for nutrient failures on the Wye.” (Does anyone with any knowledge of the present situation agree with this?)

“Welsh Conservatives believe that a holistic solution is needed to restore river beds, rather than adopting stringent phosphate targets.” (ie, another way of saying ‘we’ll kick the proverbial can along the road and do nothing’.)

“Welsh Conservatives feel that the failure to secure our long term food security will cost future generations dearly… which is why food self sufficiency should be prioritised.” (So, screw the environment and stuff the need for pure rivers. If supermarkets can sell chickens for a quid or two, everyone is happy in a collapsed world.)

The Wye & Usk Foundation recently called for a meeting of fifty Herefordshire farmers, and there seems to have been some acceptance of the poultry problem. Chair Kate Speke-Adams, WUF Head of Land Use, summed up the conclusions…

  • Research into technology to strip phosphates from manures.
  • No more phosphate applications to soils already reaching a critical threshold.
  • Investigation into supply chain schemes so that phosphates can can be exported from the (Wye) catchment to areas of the country whose soils are in deficit.
  • Expanding research to improve understanding of how our soils and nutrients are behaving.

WUF’s report ending by using phrases like this “takes time”, ”no quick, easy solution”, and “high levels of phosphorus will take decades to run down”.

And yet the report was written with a measure of bright optimism, a spin on events we fail to understand. Whilst we have a high regard for some in WUF, the basic argument of all this is that someone sometime will be paid by someone sometime to look into what is destroying our most iconic river… but we won’t do anything with much urgency because it’s probably too late anyway. Or perhaps it is more a case of ‘let’s be seen to be talking about this and with luck, the whole problem will go away’?

Just tell us please, are you happy with this? Because we are not, not by a long chalk. Can we all please decide on how we proceed from this point, and what action as a group we can all take to effect change NOW?

The post Passion for… A Cleaned Up Wye first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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John Bailey

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‘The State of our Rivers’​

I’m gratified there is still interest in the Wye and all our rivers, but then again, how can there not be? I have spent the morning watching a YouTube launch meeting for The State Of Our Rivers report, put together by the Rivers Trust and, if you have an hour to kill, I’d suggest you do the same (see above). You’ll also find a link on the Rivers Trust website>>, and the site itself is worth a browse if you have not been on it before.

If you take the time to watch this you will have your own opinions, which are every bit as valid as mine, in many cases more so. However, for my part, there was little in the film I did not know, but it did help amplify that knowledge. There were nine of ten talking heads from the EA, the Trust itself, from wild swimmers, government, River Action UK, and the media. Everyone spoke sense, showed concern and passion, and explained the problems we face clearly. Then why did I find the whole experience profoundly depressing, apart from the fact that fish and fishing were barely considered worth a mention?

I expect this goes back to 1995. That was the year that the EA and the Wye & Usk Foundation were both formed, and I was captivated by a sense of new beginnings. Simon Johnson was head of EA Fisheries in Norfolk, and his enthusiasm and input were a breath of fresh air. Equally, Stephen Marsh-Smith at the infant WUF blew me away with his fervour and his apparent understanding of the Wye’s problems, especially relating to salmon. This all happened twenty six years ago, and in that while I have seen a proliferation of environmental initiatives, and a whole host of experts working to put our rivers right. The result, as we all know, is that only 14% of our rivers today are even passably okay, and the vast majority are in a sorry state indeed.

The State Of Our Rivers report only amplified this knowledge, and contributed even more damning data to the whole sorry scenario. In short, the water companies allow floods of sewage into our rivers, and farmers pollute our rivers with an endless cocktail of contaminants. There are other issues too, but in the view of the report, these are arguably the biggies.

But who is going to a thing about this? Government? The EA? Natural England? Defra? Natural Resources Wales? Any one of a thousand independent organisations like WUF, the Rivers Trust or even the Angling Trust? The last twenty six years, and this Zoom meeting, suggested not a chance. Mark Lloyd possibly came out strongest when he called for all these disparate voices to “converge, collaborate and become cohesive” – or something similar! I suspect he is right. Perhaps we have had enough of a babble of voices clamouring to be heard, and possibly one body that can really get things done is the way forward? But where does this body come from? How is it funded? What are its powers? What do the thousands of fishery experts do if they lose their jobs?

As I suggested a day ago, perhaps it is down to the consumer to demand that the supermarkets insist on produce that is grown (or reared) in an ecologically sound fashion? Avara and Tesco might just be taking a lead on chickens that could be rolled out more generally? But, as you can see from all these question marks, my hopes are not high.

I’ll leave you with a photograph of my wife with her first Wye fly-caught barbel. I accept it is not a salmon, but it is something, a suggestion that where there is life there is hope. Mark Lloyd described the treatment of our rivers as “a wicked problem”. It is only right that this conversation continues, surely?

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The post 'Passion for the Wye... 'The State of our Rivers' first appeared in Fishing Magic Magazine.

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John Bailey

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The autumn river a few days ago.. no prizes for guessing where!

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