FIRST minister Mark Drakeford described the fight to save the River Wye as a “long and challenging but absolutely necessary journey” when he hosted a summit on the issue at the Royal Welsh Show this week.

Mr Drakeford attended the first day of the event on Monday, July 18, as the iconic agricultural spectacle returned to Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, after a three-year absence. The purpose of the summit was to find ways of reducing pollution in Welsh rivers, including the Wye, which runs past the showground in Radnorshire, and the Usk.

Speaking after the summit, the Welsh leader said: “I’m pleased to say the summit was conducted in a very constructive spirit and it was a starting point in what is going to be a long and challenging but absolutely necessary journey, which can only be done by working closely together.

“The summit worked very well and I'm very grateful to all those organisations that came here in a solution-focused way.

“People were happy to identify contributions they could make and now we need to pull all of that together so we have a fighting chance of making a difference here in Wales.”

Representatives from local government, farming unions, the building industry, water companies, regulators and environmental agencies, together with food producers, attended the meeting.

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

County Times:  Algal bloom in the River Wye. The issue has become one of increasing concern in recent years in Welsh rivers Algal bloom in the River Wye. The issue has become one of increasing concern in recent years in Welsh rivers

The farming industry has come in for fierce criticism over river pollution in recent years and is blamed by many campaigners for excessive phosphorus levels in Special Area of Conservation rivers including the Wye.

Powys has seen a boom in the last decade in planning approval for large chicken sheds for meat consumption, and campaigners say waste produced is harming the Wye, though farmers vigorously dispute this.

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

The NVZ regulations heightened tensions between the Welsh Government and the agricultural sector, but ministers insist action on water pollution was necessary.

Pollution is harming delicate ecosystems and wider catchment areas and could lead to problems with food production and also affect housebuilding in the longer term. The housing industry has said precautions on river pollution have slowed down house building in the river catchments in Mid Wales.

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.

“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,” added the first minister.

“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.

County Times:  Save the Wye campaigners with a banner over a bridge in Hay-on-Wye earlier this month Save the Wye campaigners with a banner over a bridge in Hay-on-Wye earlier this month

Simon Evans, the chief executive of the Wye and Usk Foundation, revealed in February that he fears there are only two years before the Wye passes a point of no return and the whole web of life in the river collapses.

This was his message to a meeting of the Wye Nutrient Management Board (NMB), which brought together politicians, regulators, farmers and businesses to address the river’s worsening pollution problem.

Meanwhile, SaveTheWye, a network that unites the many organisations, charities and individuals who care for the river, is coordinating WyeJuly this month to focus attention on the unfolding ecological disaster.

Earlier this month the group staged a ‘Bridges Over Troubled Waters’ campaign during which they unfurled banners from 28 bridges along the Wye, from Llanstephan in Powys to Chepstow and along the River Lugg too, which straddles Powys and Herefordshire.

Over the weekend of July 9-11, WyeJuly events took place in Hay-on-Wye, as well as Leominster, Hereford and Monmouth; these included talks, discussions, family activities and the chance to talk to citizen scientists.

SaveTheWye also had a presence at the Royal Welsh this week, with a banner seen pinned to a property in Llanelwedd on the approach to the showground.