All we wanted was to protect the River Wye from pollution. Now we’re stuck in a catch-22 | Oliver Bullough

TThe state of Britain’s rivers is incredibly depressing: water companies dump too much sewage, farmers dump too much dirt, and regulators are too scared and underfunded to do their jobs and stop them.

It wasn’t always like that. As a child I swam in the River Wye and remember the clouds of daylilies in the summer and the huge leaping salmon. It is because of this wealth of wildlife that the Wye has been classified as a Special Area of ​​Conservation for its entire length. Unfortunately, however, thanks to the failure of the Welsh and British governments to protect the river, much of this abundance has disappeared and the official status of the Wye is now ‘unfavorable – decreasing”, thanks to pollution from manure and sewage.

This deterioration has not gone unnoticed by visitors to the rivers: swimmers regularly complain of stomach upset after entering the water. My kids still swim in the Wye, but many of their friends’ parents are too worried about them getting sick to let them. I feel like our river is being taken away from us.

Fortunately, we citizens have a tool we can use to compel politicians to pay attention and compel regulators to do their jobs. By law, the water quality of any stretch of river that is officially designated as “bathing condition” should be checked and if it is found to be bad, the government should take steps to improve it. And what are the grounds for determination? “A large number of bathers at the sites between May 15 and September 30,” According to as directed by the Welsh Government.

All you have to do is gather evidence that people are swimming somewhere and then apply for status; so we in Friends of the River Wye, a group formed by local people to monitor the health of the river, decided to do just that. In the summer of 2022, our volunteers regularly visited the Warren, a popular bathing spot just upstream from Hay-on-Wye, and recorded how many people were swimming, fishing, using the beach and canoeing. We consulted local businesses and residents, environmental groups, the city council, everyone we could think of. We submitted the application a year ago.

We were confident that we would get a designation. In just one day in July we recorded 150 people on the beach, 32 people swimming, eight people canoeing and six people paddling, which was definitely enough to be considered a “large number”. Even May and September we had recorded people in the water. We had support from local members of the Senedd and from the House of Commons; from local canoeing companies, campsites, wildlife trusts and more. The Welsh Government, which makes much of its purported commitment to “future generations,” argues that improving water quality is a key priority, so we would probably push for an open door.

If we were to achieve a determination, the implications would be enormous. Warren is only a few hundred meters from the Welsh border and England, but the Wye drains much of mid Wales. By forcing the government to improve water quality there, we will force it to improve the whole of the Wye catchment in Wales. Cardiff politicians will actually have to do something to protect this Special Conservation Area.

But last week they refused us on grounds which made the disappointment even worse. The Welsh Government is apparently concerned that the presence of bathers in the river will damage the environment, given its protected status and the Warren’s position as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. “While there is adequate evidence of the number of bathers at Warren,” the government said in its letter to us, “there are serious concerns about the environmental impact on the site if it is designated as a bathing water.”

It’s an absurd catch-22 situation. The only way to protect the river is to prove that people are swimming in it – but according to the Welsh Government, having people actually in the water is putting it at environmental risk. The truth is, Warren is already a popular swimming spot – bathing status or not. The stretch of river is famous, recommended as a bathing spot in guidebooks for decades and in publications ranging from Daily Mail to Condé Nast Traveler. In the summer, dozens of people swim there every day, both tourists and us locals, cooling off after work. Dozens more people canoe their way downstream.

The only real impact of granting bathing status to the stretch of river would be to force the government to protect the health of the people who use it by improving the water quality. It would also give the Wye’s birds, mammals, fish, plants and insects a chance to thrive in a river that is not being used as a waste disposal chute.

Earlier this month, the Conservative government in London published “Action Plan” to better Wye, who didn’t even make it mention the need to enforce the environmental rules that are supposed to protect the river. Now, by refusing our request for bathing water, the Labor Government in Cardiff is using the environmental protection it is failing to enforce as an excuse not to protect the river. It is infuriating, but we must use their intransigence as a spur to action. If apathy toward this environmental emergency is shared by both major parties, we citizens must become increasingly willing to push politicians to do what is necessary to protect our rivers.

  • Oliver Bullough is the author of Economist of the world: How Britain became the servant of tax-dodging tycoons, kleptocrats and criminals

نوشته های مشابه

دکمه بازگشت به بالا