River Action, an environmental charity, has won approval to take the Government's Environment Agency to court. The High Court ruling, delivered on October 19, allows for a judicial review to examine the agency's alleged failure to protect the river Wye from agricultural pollution. The focus will be on the agency's enforcement of rules concerning the spreading of organic manure and artificial fertiliser in the river's catchment area.
The charity initially sought permission for the judicial review back in March, claiming that the Environment Agency had not enforced its own regulations. These regulations were meant to protect the river from pollution, primarily stemming from the spreading of manure from local poultry farms. Overuse of such fertilisers can result in harmful algal blooms, affecting the river's plant and animal life. A recent study by Lancaster University indicated that around two-thirds of the phosphorus causing harm to the river Wye comes from farming.
Charles Watson, chairman and founder of River Action, stated, "We will now vigorously make the case that a prime cause for the recent ecological collapse of the river Wye is the EA's decision to slavishly follow DEFRA's guidance to not enforce critical provisions of the 2018 Farming Rules for Water." He added that the river Wye is facing "horrific environmental consequences that are plain to see."
The charity is represented by law firm Leigh Day. Ricardo Gama, a solicitor on their environment team, said the Environment Agency had instructed its field officers to ignore breaches and not inform land managers when these breaches were discovered.
The judicial review will scrutinise the Environment Agency's actions, or lack thereof, in enforcing laws aimed at protecting the river Wye. This comes at a crucial time when concerns over environmental protection are at an all-time high.