Farming bosses have hit back at claims the River Wye has been turned green because of a surfeit of run-off from chicken farms in Powys.

The Wye and Usk Foundation yesterday said the river had changed colour because of large algal blooms, affecting the amount of oxygen in the water and potentially harming wildlife.

But NFU Cymru's Brecon and Radnor county chairman Geraint Watkins said the foundation was wrong to say that this was caused by large numbers of chicken farms being built in Powys.

“The one-dimensional presentation of the issues relating to water quality in the River Wye by the Wye and Usk Foundation, and other rivers organisations, is both concerning and distressing for farmers within the catchment," he said.

"This most recent criticism comes at a time when farmers are working hard in challenging circumstances to keep the national fed in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.

“The evidence is unequivocal that there are a range of issues and sectors influencing water quality in Wales and within the River Wye. This includes sewage discharges, forestry, acidification, abandoned mines and contaminated land, as well as physical modifications that alter flows and barriers that impede fish migration.

“We are disappointed that, in pursuit of its agenda to pinpoint farming, and in particular poultry farming, as the cause of water quality issues within the Wye, this article fails to acknowledge a broader suite of evidence and facts relating to water quality."

Mr Watkins said data monitoring has shown an "improving picture" of water quality in Wales, with a decline in application rates of nitrogen, phosphates and potash since 1983.

And he pointed to the dry weather which has led to record low flows on the Wye, and which has also impacted water quality.

“The failure of the aforementioned organisations to properly present the evidence in relation to water quality in the River Wye, and other water sources in Wales, is damaging and will prove counterproductive," he said.

"It only serves to undermine the credibility of the organisations concerned within the farming community who they receive funding to work with. A focus solely on farming will also fail to deliver water quality improvements in line with water framework directive goals.

“NFU Cymru is clear that there is always more farming can do and we are strong advocates of appropriate interventions where poor practices are responsible. We are clear the best outcomes can be achieved by working with the farming community to develop solutions at a local level.

“Farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously and recognise their role in protecting and enhancing rivers and streams, as well as caring for the wider countryside alongside producing safe, affordable, high quality food for our nation.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has also had its say over the issue.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We fully recognise the importance of good water quality and the impact agricultural pollution is having across the whole of Wales.

“The Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs has published draft Regulations she is minded to introduce as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic come to an end. These include restrictions on the application of nutrients from livestock, including poultry, to sustainable levels in every part of Wales.”