Residents of the Wye catchment area are bringing a collective legal action against Cargill PLC and Avara Foods Limited over River Wye pollution allegations – with a forthcoming series of roadshows offering residents a chance to meet the Leigh Day Solicitors team to take part in the action.

Communities affected by the devastating effects of pollution in the River Wye are joining forces in a bid to make those companies allegedly responsible pay for their actions. Leading environmental law firm Leigh Day is holding Speak Up events throughout July to encourage more people to support the ground-breaking community legal action against alleged polluters.

The multi-million-pound action argues that intensive poultry practices in the Wye area, by Avara Foods and its parent company Cargill PLC, have created excess phosphorus from chicken manure. Phosphorous is the leading cause of pollution in the River Wye and its tributaries, affecting wildlife, local businesses and recreation.

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The legal action is a way for local residents to demand alleged polluters pay for damage and clean up the river so future generations can enjoy it. (Leigh Day Client Image)

The Wye has been at the forefront of a major expansion of the chicken industry in the UK. Researchers estimate the area now houses 23 million or more birds at any one time, concentrated in very large poultry units. Some people living in the area have reported sickness after swimming, and last year the river was downgraded to “unfavourable – declining” by the government nature watchdog Natural England. This is only two stages away from the Wye being listed as “destroyed”.

Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland, who is leading the claim, commented: “People in the area are very angry. Their lives have been affected by this in many different ways, and there has already been a lot of campaigning.”

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Oliver Holland, Leigh Day partner. (Leigh Day)

“Residents are passionate about the Wye, which has given joy to countless generations and is now facing a devastating decline. People are angry that something like this, which we say was essentially preventable had there been proper regulation of poultry farming in the area, has happened.

“The consequences are far-reaching and deeply distressing. Once a haven for wildlife and a cherished resource for the community, the river is now plagued by dangerous levels of algae blooms. This pollution causes biodiversity loss in the area and inflicts financial and emotional burdens on people living near the river.”

By joining the claim, individuals and businesses can seek an injunction from the court to compel the defendants to clean up and put measures in place to fix the Wye. They can also seek compensation for their losses, whether it is the diminished value of their properties, the impact on their livelihoods, or the infringement upon their rights such as the recreational use of the river for swimming, canoeing and fishing.

Holland added: “We believe that corporations are the main cause of the degradation of the River Wye, and that they should be held to account and forced to clean up.”

“Local residents and businesses should have their river restored and be compensated for the losses they may have faced both in their personal and professional lives.”

The Leigh Day roadshow, which will visit several locations across Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Powys, is a ‘call to action’ for residents and businesses, said Holland.

“It is a chance for residents to tell us how their lives have been affected by this pollution, and for us to tell them how they can join the claim, and speak up for their rights.”

The legal action roadshow will run from July 8 to 14 and will include speeches by local activists and campaigners who are passionate about cleaning up the river, and by people who are already part of the legal action, including fishing expert, author, broadcaster and environmental campaigner John Bailey; author and bathing quality campaigner for Friends of the River Wye Oliver Bullough; environmental consultant Count Andrew Hubert von Staufer; and environmental campaigner and journalist Nicola Cutcher.

The roadshow will visit Dingestow Village Hall, Dingestow, on Monday, July 8 from 4.30pm to 6.30pm; Goodrich Village Hall, Goodrich, on Tuesday, July 9, from 5pm to 8pm; The Left Bank Village, Hereford, on Wednesday, July 10, from 5pm to 8pm; Grange Court, Leominster, on Thursday, July 11 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm; The Globe, Hay-on-Wye, on Friday, July 12, from 5pm to 8pm; and Penybont and District Community Centre, Penybont, on Sunday, July 14 from 12pm to 4pm.

Oliver Holland and colleagues Celine O’Donovan, Benji Gourgey and Rosio Cafarelli will be on hand to answer questions about the claim.

“Litigation is rarely the best first option, but when you have no other option, when corporations and governments are not preventing problems, it is the best way to create change,” said Holland.

“By joining our claim, individuals can collectively amplify their voices in pursuing justice. There is huge strength in numbers and together, we have the power to make a difference and clean up the River Wye.” 

Leigh Day is bringing the claim on a no-win, no-fee basis, which means that those joining the claim will only pay the legal fee if the claim is successful.

To join the claim or find out more about the environmental impact of the pollution and the group legal action, visit