Environmental campaigner George Monbiot has said those who care about protecting the river Wye “occupy two different planets” if they continue eating chicken.

He was responding to a debate on whether installing incinerators to burn waste from poultry farms in the river’s catchment area could prevent pollution arising from these from entering the river.

Chicken manure spread on surrounding fields is believed to contribute to the high levels of phosphate in particular entering the river, leading to periodic algal blooms which harm fish and other wildlife.

In October one of the largest poultry farm operators in the area, Avara Foods, said it would work to remove phosphate from poultry manure by employing chemical stripping and pyrolysis, a form of incineration.

The Wye Catchment Conservators, which represents fishery owners of the river Wye and its tributaries, appeared to welcome this.

It Tweeted: “The UK still needs chicken, so the IPU’s [intensive poultry units]  have to go somewhere, and who would compensate the owners of those removed? So a practical and deliverable solution is needed, and fast.”

But Monbiot replied: “I think it would be better to say ‘people in the UK choose to eat chicken’. We do not NEED chicken.

“It’s time conservationists became bolder and spoke out against the world’s greatest cause of ecological destruction: animal farming.”

He added: “River conservationists I meet rail against these disasters, but carry on eating meat like there’s no tomorrow. It’s as if they occupy two different planets at once.”

Campaigning Twitter user 3 Wyes Women was sceptical of Avara’s proposed solution, saying: “Can someone please explain the cumulative environmental impact of numerous industrial incinerators run by chicken farmers in the Wye catchment?”

They claimed chicken litter incineration had already been rejected in the US on air pollution grounds.