FIRST Minister Mark Drakeford will host a summit today at the Royal Welsh Show to find ways of reducing pollution in Welsh rivers.

Representatives from local government, farming unions, the building industry, water companies, regulators and environmental agencies, together with food producers will attend the meeting on the showground at Llanelwedd.

The farming industry has come in for criticism over river pollution and is blamed by many campaigners for excessive phosphorus levels in Special Area of Conservation rivers including the Wye, which runs past the the showground in Radnorshire, and the Usk.

Radnorshire has seen a boom in recent years in large chicken sheds for meat consumption and campaigners say waste produced is harming the Wye, though farmers dispute this.

The Welsh Government has also introduced legislation, essentially designating all of Wales a 'Nitrate Vulnerable Zone', a move that was bitterly opposed by farming unions which brought an unsucessful legal challenge against the government.

The NVZ regulations heightened tensions between the government and the sector but ministers have insisted action on water pollution was necessary.

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Pollution is harming delicate ecosystems and wider catchment areas and could lead to problems with food production and affect housebuilding in the longer term.

The industry has said precautions on river pollution have slowed down house building in the river cathments in mid Wales.

The Welsh Government is investing £40m over the next three years to tackle river pollution and to protect the environment.

Protecting and improving the water environment is a priority for the Welsh Government and plays a central role in the response to the nature and climate emergencies and climate change minister Julie James is also due to attend the meeting.

The first minister said: “It is only by working together that we can tackle phosphorus pollution in our rivers.

“This is a complex issue and there is no one easy answer – we all have a part to play if we are to reduce the level of phosphorus and tackle the root causes of pollution.

“We must work together with the farming sector, with food producers and the water industry to find solutions to these problems, which is why I have called this summit at the Royal Welsh.”

Last week low water levels on the Wye and Usk saw fishing banned and now there is warning the Wye could see a lethal “algal bloom” because of the hot weather and lack of rain.

The Environment Agency’s River Wye Early Warning System gave an “amber” alert last week, after the river’s temperature passed 20C on its English stretch.

It followed Natural Resources Wales and called for a halt to salmon and trout fishing on the river – including catch-and-release, because fish would already be stressed.


The Wye is a designated special area of conservation and an important salmon fishery, but in recent years “has experienced episodes of excessively high summer water temperatures which is associated with increased algal blooms”, the EA said.

These can block sunlight from reaching water plants, and use up oxygen in the water, which can suffocate fish.

“We recognise that nutrient levels, such as those from agricultural pollution, increase the chances of algae developing,” the agency’s warning added.

But Charles Watson, founder and chair of pressure group River Action, tweeted in response to this point: “The tons of phosphate-laden sediment washed in each year from the valley’s 100s of intensive poultry units coming home to roost.

“Shame our environmental protection agencies didn’t object to them being built in the first place.”

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