The beady-eyed Christine Hugh-Jones, a seasoned campaigner against intensive poultry units in Wales, was preparing to object to another chicken factory when she saw a new document appear on the Powys planning portal: a Holding Direction from the Welsh Government.
This means that a Welsh Government Minister could ‘call in’ the application to make a decision on it, rather than leave that decision to the local planning authority. In the meantime, Powys County Council can’t approve the unit.
Could this be the moment that the Welsh Government show some leadership to protect Welsh rivers? Powys County Council and the environmental regulator, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), have continued to approve intensive poultry units (and all other intensive livestock operations) despite scientific evidence showing that the Wye catchment is overloaded with phosphorus, primarily from intensive livestock. There are too many animals creating too much manure in one concentrated area and its throwing the whole ecology out of balance and driving the death of a once-thriving river.
I tweeted this news and soon the nature writer Robert Macfarlane tweeted to ask the Welsh Government to call in the application. He said it was “a crucial moment in the life or death of the Wye”. The Guardian asked me to write the story.
The BBC Wales Investigates programme What’s Killing Our Rivers? reported that NRW told them that “when it comes to muck spreading, they don’t proactively check how its done”. This is the crux of the issue. Nobody is checking or policing what happens to all the manure in the catchment and that’s a disaster. Sewage pollution flooding into rivers is all over the news, but there is also a tsunami of poo coming from intensive livestock which is less visible but probably more dangerous.
The Chair of the Wye’s Nutrient Management Board, Elissa Swinglehurst, once described trying to deal with nutrient pollution in the Wye as “like trying to empty a bath with the taps still running”. Will the Welsh Government turn off the taps?