Environment Agency boosts water quality monitoring to help tackle pollution on the River Wye
  • Early warning system to monitor high temperatures and algal blooms
  • £100k of monitoring equipment to capture real-time data over the Wye and Lugg catchments

Enhanced by citizen science data, the Environment Agency is using water quality monitoring activity to prioritise how and where to tackle phosphate pollution on the River Wye.

The Wye catchment is an iconic location and hugely important for biodiversity, principally due to the wide range of rare river wildlife. Over 60% of the phosphate load in the catchment is from diffuse agricultural pollution from livestock manure and nutrients washing into the river during heavy rain.

A range of partners through the Wye Nutrient Management Board, including the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, are working collaboratively to address concerns about phosphate levels in the catchment and drive forward nature recovery.

Based on the latest water quality monitoring report, which has been enhanced by new data obtained by an ongoing citizen science monitoring programme, the Environment Agency has made a series of recommendations on where actions are most needed and the locations across the catchment where those actions can have the most impact.

This includes a recommendation that partners take a catchment-based approach targeting 5 upstream areas of the river that have high phosphate levels relative to the wider catchment.

Evidence also indicates that efforts to increase shade by tree planting and better management of riparian trees could help mitigate high temperatures. The Environment Agency is developing an algal bloom early warning system to respond to excessive temperatures, with advice for anglers and river users.

The latest water quality monitoring report, along with analysis, activities and plans to improve water quality in the Wye and Lugg river catchments, can be found on the Environment Agency’s recently launched Wye Water Monitoring webpage.

Grace Wight, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said:

The inclusion of citizen science data in our latest monitoring report is a fantastic step in combining more data sources and is already helping identify where measures can be targeted to reduce the inputs of pollution to the river.

The scale and complexity of the challenges in the catchment means solutions will take time and must be founded on a strong evidence base.

Through our new website and ongoing engagement work, we will continue to update our partners and stakeholders so that we can work together to tackle pollution and ensure the future health of the river.

The Environment Agency continues to scale up its monitoring operation to inform next steps on the Wye. £100,000 has been secured for the Wye and Lugg catchments from a national fund that supports agricultural regulation. The additional funds will supply monitoring equipment that will capture real-time, high-resolution data over the catchments. The equipment comprises of 10 sondes and 6 auto-samplers that will be positioned across the rivers Wye, Lugg and Arrow.

Enhanced monitoring will support the work of Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming team, which provides advice and guidance to farmers to reduce air and water pollution. This work area has benefitted from increased resource to enable more farmers to access advice and support.

The Environment Agency has also increased farm visits in the catchment, focusing on high-risk locations and previously non-compliant businesses. Increased monitoring will help target regulatory work even further, working with farmers to support environmentally friendly farming that doesn’t damage water quality.

Notes to editors

  • The EA is working collaboratively with other partners to deliver a Citizen Science monitoring programme. This additional resource is collecting water quality data throughout the Wye catchment to help identify and prioritise where measures can be targeted to reduce inputs of pollution. This work complements our statutory monitoring and will be a valuable source of intelligence moving forward.
  • Citizen science can be defined as the involvement of volunteers in science. It has a vital role in scientific research and education, and the potential to help meet some of the challenging demands of environmental monitoring at national scale.
  • Five areas have been identified as upstream parts of the catchment with high phosphate concentrations relative to the wider catchment, taking the size of watercourse into account. They also experience a high proportion of the pressures identified in the latest water monitoring report. The EA recommends all contributing partners in the Wye catchment take a catchment-based approach in these focus areas:
  1. River Arrow near Kington
  2. River Arrow near Pembridge and Curl Brook
  3. River Lugg and tributaries near Presteigne
  4. Little Lugg and Withington Marsh Brook
  5. River Frome
  • Catchment Sensitive Farming plays a key role in tackling pollution from agriculture. Farmers and landowners can and must abide by the Farming Rules for Water in England or the Control of Agricultural Pollution regulations in Wales. The rules are designed to help protect water quality by standardising good farm practices and require farmers to: keep soil on the land; match nutrients to crop and soil needs; and keep livestock, fertilisers and manures out of the water.

  • In July 2021, Defra announced it would double funding for farmers to tackle water pollution via the Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership. This is a partnership between Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency, providing free 1-2-1 advice to farmers to help them reduce pollution through management of farmyard manure and soils, among other things. In recent years it has reduced the number of serious water pollution incidents by almost a fifth.
  • An extensive programme of advisory and support work is delivered by Catchment Sensitive Farming and catchment partners, including the Wye and Usk Foundation, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and Farm Herefordshire to reduce agricultural sources of pollution to the River Wye.
  • There is further work underway to tackle phosphate pollution from wastewater treatment in the River Wye through catchment partnerships. The Nutrient Management Board, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water and the Storm Overflows Taskforce will seek to make further improvements in this space.
  • Phosphate is a chemical found within organic manures, treated sewage and trade discharges. The phosphates affecting the Wye and Lugg tributaries mainly come from rainwater run-off from agriculture (over 60%), with some also being discharged from sewage treatment works (19%).
  • The build-up of phosphates in the catchment from the overuse of fertilisers and animal manure will take time to reduce due to its dependence on natural processes.

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