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Who killed the river Wye? Chicken farmers have been framed

"Quiet flows the Wye towards its grave". David Cheshire/Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

"Quiet flows the Wye towards its grave". David Cheshire/Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images


February 22, 2023   6 mins

For 30 accumulated years, the River Wye flowed alongside my life. I cannot quite say I grew up on its banks, but from the gates of my first childhood home I could throw a stone, across a road and an orchard, into its waters. This was just south of the city of Hereford, where the Wye becomes fat and slow among green meadows and rolling hills; or, put another way, where it achieves a very English bucolic. Later, I farmed for a decade on an upland tributary in the lee of the Brecon Beacons.

So reading the spate of reports regarding its imminent death is like receiving bad news about a friend. It is not even a gentle demise: the Wye is being murdered. It is the totemic case of our national pollution problem as two newspapers launch campaigns to clean up rivers. Fair enough. I learned to swim in the Wye, and fished it for silver minnows; now I would not go into its waters wearing chest-waders. In 2010, the Wye was voted the nation’s favourite river — and celebrated with adjectives including “magical”, “timeless” and “unspoilt”’. In 2020, a thick algal bloom caused by pollution extended along more than 140 of the river’s 155 miles, blocking out sunlight and killing much life below the surface. Now, the Wye’s local cognomen is “shit creek”.

But such was the river’s beauty that following the publication of the Reverend William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye in 1782, the British tourist industry was born. The long watery southing miles enthused Wordsworth (“Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”) and prompted JMW Turner to get his brushes out several times. It was renowned across the globe for its Atlantic salmon. Kings and prime ministers have fished from its banks of appropriately salmon-pink sandstone. Once, rod catches exceeded 7,000 a year, with the record fish being a 59lb 8oz leviathan — landed by Doreen Davey at Winforton on March 13, 1923. In 2021, only 326 salmon were caught from the Wye, the smallest number since records began.

That was the year the spotlight on the Wye’s parlous ecological state was switched on with Rivercide, a documentary by George Monbiot, which was complemented by his Guardian article, “Britain’s rivers are suffocating to death”. Plaudits to Monbiot for bringing the death of the Wye to public attention. But his forensic environmental investigation immediately hits the banks.

Monbiot’s argument, which now dominates the “Why oh Wye” discourse, flows roughly thus: the 20 million chickens intensively farmed in the Wye’s catchment area produce more than 2,500 tonnes of excrement a year, and this mountain of manure is “the most intense and extreme cause” of the Wye’s pollution. It’s the phosphates in the manure. When it is spread on fields, they leach and leak into the river, and promote algal bloom.

Monbiot is not totally wrong. Indisputably, the phosphates in the run-off from intensive poultry units (IPUs in the jargon) are harming the Wye. The Ithon, one of its tributaries in mid-Wales, contains phosphate levels up to 10 times higher than what you’d expect in a healthy upland river, according to an analysis commissioned by Fish Legal, a non-profit organisation of lawyers who fight water polluters. However, when it comes to the question of who is killing the Wye, simply pointing the finger at poultry farmers lets other culprits off the hook. The gallery of rivercide rogues stretches from the Wye’s source on the bleak slopes of Plynlimon to the Severn estuary.

Humans have been killing the Wye for centuries. If you wished to really get to the bottom of whodunnit, you’d begin with the Romans, who introduced the watermill to these isles. Watermills produce pollution — for instance, if used for fulling, the making of woollen cloth — and hamper the spawning of key fish species, including the Wye’s renowned Salmo salar. Salmon in the Wye, and other rivers in the Palaeo-Rhine basin, may have been reduced by as much as 90% between 450AD and 1600AD.

Then there was overfishing in the 19th century, with 100,000 salmon traps in the Severn and net after net up the Wye to Hay; in 1906, the rod catch of salmon was about 500 fish. Fast forward to the 20th century and acid rain from heavy industry in South Wales was severely impacting the Wye’s headwaters, the quiet brooks where the salmon spawn. Indeed, had The Wye and Usk Foundation not started liming the waters to restore the pH balance in 2003, Wye salmon might well be extinct. The ecosystem of the river has yet to recover from past acid rain.

And there’s the human crap. This year, the Wye has achieved the dubious distinction of appearing at number 14 in the Top of the Poops chart, which ranks England and Wales’s most sewage-polluted rivers. An ITV News analysis of data from DĆ”r Cymru Welsh Water, the water company responsible for the areas through which the Wye flows, revealed that in 2020 alone, raw sewage entered the river system for 17.4 million minutes — that’s the equivalent of 33 years. Endlessly blaming the death of the Wye on chicken shit is chicken shit. Environment Agency modelling suggests that raw sewage is the source of 28% of the Wye’s pollution, which is no small matter.

Sewage is also known to cause algal bloom: in 2021, the United Utilities Staveley sewage works, near Windermere, spilled untreated sewage into a nearby stream 80 times for a total of 1,172 hours. The result was a literally sick-making algal bloom on Lake Windermere. But sewage isn’t only to blame. If we are to save the Wye, we may also need to look to the Heavens. Climate change is expected to make algal blooms more common.

So how guilty is the notorious chicken excrement? So extreme is the phosphate runoff from poultry farming that George Monbiot requires us to give up eating chicken to save the Wye. “We do not NEED chicken”, he says, adding: “It’s time conservationists became bolder and spoke out against the world’s greatest cause of ecological destruction: animal farming.” But let’s pluck the Wye’s chicken problem a little. The expansion of IPUs in the Wye’s catchment area over the past five years is clearly a driver in phosphate pollution, but the phosphate overload in local soil is a legacy issue, dating back decades.

The most authoritative analysis, “Re-focusing Phosphorus use in the Wye Catchment”, attributes 60-70% of said mineral pollution to agriculture, but is careful to enumerate the various culpable parts of agriculture, not just the IPUs. The major culprits include potato-growing, which, last time I checked, was a vegan-approved crop. Phosphate is an ingredient in the artificial fertilisers widely used in large-scale potato-farming, and excess runs off the fields along with the soil when it rains. It all goes into the river. With not a chicken in sight.

Monbiot’s anti-poultry agenda is a diversion, not an answer. You absolutely can have your chicken and your Wye. Small-scale poultry production, with organic free-range hens scratching around apple orchards, naturally manuring the earth: there is no evidence whatsoever that this model is anything but beneficial to the environment. Having your intensively-farmed, ÂŁ3.50 chicken from Tesco and having your Wye is another matter. It’s not the chicken, it’s how you farm them.

The greatest environmental problem for the Wye is not the warming of the planet, acid rain, or excrement, whether human or avian: it is chemically-addicted conventional farming. The phosphates in chicken manure leach into the upper Wye for the same reason that phosphates from artificial fertiliser on potato fields enter the river downstream near Ross: the parlous state of the soil, caused by overuse of pesticides, herbicides, molluscicides, fungicides and compaction from machinery. Some potato-growing farmers I knew — whose liking for herbicides and pesticides always made me think of them as “The Chemical Brothers” — lost tons of topsoil per annum from a single 40-acre field. Into the brook, which ran brown, which joined the Wye, which ran brown. There are fields in Britain losing 47 tons of soil per acre per annum. As Natural England notes, “soil and nutrients washing off agricultural land is the most common reason for our rivers and streams becoming unhealthy”. Good, healthy soil, by contrast, can hold huge amounts of water, and is not saturated with phosphates — or indeed that other chemical killer of fresh water, nitrates — because it has been “husbanded”. That is, farmed properly.

Call me cynical, call me biased, but doesn’t the “It’s all the fault of poultry farmers” argument stink a bit of a vegan agenda? In an age when whole cities are trying to erase meat from school menus, it’s fashionable and easy to blame the livestock farmer, and answer every complex environmental problem with: “Go plant-based!”

But you could close all the IPUs in the Wye catchment area and turn them over to cabbage production for vegans, and you would still have phosphates streaming into the river. It will continue to die unless the area’s agriculture, be it livestock or crop, adopts en masse soil-aware, sustainable and nature-friendly principles. What’s more, you could say the same about almost every river in the country. Meanwhile, quiet flows the Wye towards its grave.


John Lewis-Stempel is a farmer and writer on nature and history. His most recent books are The Sheep’s Tale and Nightwalking.

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Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

Out of my sphere of knowledge, but chicken manure is a common fertilizer, at least for gardens. Where does it fit in terms of fertilizers available to used by the potato farmers, since both supply phosphorus?
That always was the symbiosis of mixed farming – animals aren’t just meat, but also provide the fertilizer to regenerate and recondition the soil after crops deplenish the nutrients. Eradicating animals takes away half of the equation, turning soils into chemical factories for mono-crops.

Richard Maslen
Richard Maslen
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Absolutely. No animals – no nothing. Look forward in farming, but keep the past in mind, and when possible in practice,

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as neat as this. We haven’t managed to produce enough local manure for centuries, hence the guano trade. In fact, without the use of some man-made fertiliser we could not possibly feed the population of UK,let alone the world. Of course, your point is absolutely right as a means of reducing the need for man-made stuff, but not a whole solution.

Richard Maslen
Richard Maslen
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Absolutely. No animals – no nothing. Look forward in farming, but keep the past in mind, and when possible in practice,

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as neat as this. We haven’t managed to produce enough local manure for centuries, hence the guano trade. In fact, without the use of some man-made fertiliser we could not possibly feed the population of UK,let alone the world. Of course, your point is absolutely right as a means of reducing the need for man-made stuff, but not a whole solution.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

Out of my sphere of knowledge, but chicken manure is a common fertilizer, at least for gardens. Where does it fit in terms of fertilizers available to used by the potato farmers, since both supply phosphorus?
That always was the symbiosis of mixed farming – animals aren’t just meat, but also provide the fertilizer to regenerate and recondition the soil after crops deplenish the nutrients. Eradicating animals takes away half of the equation, turning soils into chemical factories for mono-crops.

Paul Walsh
Paul Walsh
1 year ago

No doubt there are problems to solve, but I used to test river samples in Kent about 30 years ago, and they were getting cleaner every year. 40 or 50 years ago some of the rivers were almost empty of life. As always there are probably several sources that can be improved to give an overall beneficial impact.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Walsh

A useful perspective on matter.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Walsh

A useful perspective on matter.

Paul Walsh
Paul Walsh
1 year ago

No doubt there are problems to solve, but I used to test river samples in Kent about 30 years ago, and they were getting cleaner every year. 40 or 50 years ago some of the rivers were almost empty of life. As always there are probably several sources that can be improved to give an overall beneficial impact.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Where is the actual evidence that the River Wye is “dying” ? There’s a lot of emotional language being thrown around, but few actual facts that persuade me that this is an actual catastrophe. As opposed to a “media catastrophe” which can be manipulated by pressure groups to support whatever agenda they are pushing. George Monbiot is pushing an anti-meat agenda. The author is pushing a sort of organic farming agenda.
Do we really believe that rivers in the UK are in a worse state than in many preceding decades ? We know for certain that the Thames in London is far healthier than it used to be.
I’ve canoed and – inadvertently – swum in the Wye just above Hay-on-Wye around 15 and 5 years ago and saw no evidence of anything seriously wrong then. It’s running fairly fast there so I’d be surprised if there’s persistent algal bloom there.
We have this persistent narrative about terrible river and stream pollution (a lot of it pushed by the Lib Dems). I’m just not seeing it round where I live.
As someone else observed, if the population of the UK has risen by around 10% over the last 15 or so years, is it any surprise that there is more sewage around. I’m not aware of any expansion in sewage treatment plant to accomodate the extra sewage. But that’s nothing to do with farming.
Note also that sewage volume is one of the most reliable measurements of actual population. As are supermarket food sales. Forget official government statistics.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Do TPTB add theft (shoplifting and shrinkage) to “sales?”. There’s a lot of it going on – at all levels of ‘customer.’

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Do TPTB add theft (shoplifting and shrinkage) to “sales?”. There’s a lot of it going on – at all levels of ‘customer.’

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Where is the actual evidence that the River Wye is “dying” ? There’s a lot of emotional language being thrown around, but few actual facts that persuade me that this is an actual catastrophe. As opposed to a “media catastrophe” which can be manipulated by pressure groups to support whatever agenda they are pushing. George Monbiot is pushing an anti-meat agenda. The author is pushing a sort of organic farming agenda.
Do we really believe that rivers in the UK are in a worse state than in many preceding decades ? We know for certain that the Thames in London is far healthier than it used to be.
I’ve canoed and – inadvertently – swum in the Wye just above Hay-on-Wye around 15 and 5 years ago and saw no evidence of anything seriously wrong then. It’s running fairly fast there so I’d be surprised if there’s persistent algal bloom there.
We have this persistent narrative about terrible river and stream pollution (a lot of it pushed by the Lib Dems). I’m just not seeing it round where I live.
As someone else observed, if the population of the UK has risen by around 10% over the last 15 or so years, is it any surprise that there is more sewage around. I’m not aware of any expansion in sewage treatment plant to accomodate the extra sewage. But that’s nothing to do with farming.
Note also that sewage volume is one of the most reliable measurements of actual population. As are supermarket food sales. Forget official government statistics.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

What is ignored is the massive decline of people with the applied science/engineering expertise to assess the catchment as a whole.To understand how pollutants move one needs to understand the mathematics of flow, retardation,diffusion, sorption, dispersion, biodegradation, through solids which means a high level of geochemical, chemical engineering and mineral processing engineering. The sort of person who obtains Grade A Further Maths/STEP 2 or 3 and reads Geochemistry, Mineral Processing Engineering either works for mining companies or enters international finance.
The sort of equations used to assess movement of pollutants include Ogata and Banks
Ogata and Banks Analytical Solution (amphos21.com)
What needs to be considered are the volumes, flow rates and velocities of water off the land into the rivers and the nature of the pollutants load, whether solid, colloidal or dissolved.
Putting men on the Moon and their safe return was achieved because people with the skills were employed. If one does not have the people with the skills, money will not solve the problems.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

What is ignored is the massive decline of people with the applied science/engineering expertise to assess the catchment as a whole.To understand how pollutants move one needs to understand the mathematics of flow, retardation,diffusion, sorption, dispersion, biodegradation, through solids which means a high level of geochemical, chemical engineering and mineral processing engineering. The sort of person who obtains Grade A Further Maths/STEP 2 or 3 and reads Geochemistry, Mineral Processing Engineering either works for mining companies or enters international finance.
The sort of equations used to assess movement of pollutants include Ogata and Banks
Ogata and Banks Analytical Solution (amphos21.com)
What needs to be considered are the volumes, flow rates and velocities of water off the land into the rivers and the nature of the pollutants load, whether solid, colloidal or dissolved.
Putting men on the Moon and their safe return was achieved because people with the skills were employed. If one does not have the people with the skills, money will not solve the problems.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
1 year ago

Unfortunately this is typical of Monbiot’s lazy journalism.

Take real story with a strong element of environmental issues.

Simplify these and come to an unsupported conclusion.

Ignore other factors which might take away from the heart-string tugging.

Lightly garnish with Guardian hypocrisy.

Serve to the persuaded.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
1 year ago

Unfortunately this is typical of Monbiot’s lazy journalism.

Take real story with a strong element of environmental issues.

Simplify these and come to an unsupported conclusion.

Ignore other factors which might take away from the heart-string tugging.

Lightly garnish with Guardian hypocrisy.

Serve to the persuaded.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

Ordinary people in the old days only ate what they farmed & grew . A lot of pottage ( stew) which did consist meat and a lot of grains and vegetables was consumed . It was mostly plant based with meat as supplement rather than meat as main stay. They did not consume steaks, whole chicken breast & fish fillets etc the way we do now.
Small scale chicken and meat farming is totally harmless and even beneficial. But how do you feed such a large population as of the world today with meat since they are not looking for pottages of the past, but burgers and chicken nuggets & to produce this only way is intensive animal farming !
Comparing chicken with potato farming is totally ridiculous, although I agree it should be cleaned up too. A field of potatoes would feed a lot more people than a field of the same size kept for chickens.
There is no logic to intensive animal farming in the future when we are still on our way to a mammoth 10billion population. The sooner the younger generations get used to low meat/vegetarian/vegan diet the better they will adapt to the growing disruption which will occur due to climate issues. Teach your children well for in the future they will have to get by.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Fewer people in the world are hungry today precisely because of intensive ag production and the massive spike in yield per acre. Intensive ag has issues, but it has also saved many people from starvation.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The main reason for population explosion is the advancement of medical science. The death rate has declined disproportionately to birth rate decline. However producing cruelly grown, unhealthy food for large populations is only going to result in a large unhealthy population. That’s what is happening now. Diet education should be taught widely in schools considering its utmost importance to one’s standard of living. All the new age common illnesses we are observing now are due to diet deficiency and it’s not because of lack of quantity of meat. It’s mostly due to imbalance in quantities that we consume.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The main reason for population explosion is the advancement of medical science. The death rate has declined disproportionately to birth rate decline. However producing cruelly grown, unhealthy food for large populations is only going to result in a large unhealthy population. That’s what is happening now. Diet education should be taught widely in schools considering its utmost importance to one’s standard of living. All the new age common illnesses we are observing now are due to diet deficiency and it’s not because of lack of quantity of meat. It’s mostly due to imbalance in quantities that we consume.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago

Excuse my ignorance and I know I could have “Googled” for the answer but why can’t you keep chickens in a potato field?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Diet requirements depend upon work and conditions one lives in. The developing brain needs protein.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Generally healthy adult population doesn’t NEED it AS MUCH and plant products give ample proteins.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Have a you spent days undertaking heavy manual work out of doors in the cold with driving sleety rain ?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Have a you spent days undertaking heavy manual work out of doors in the cold with driving sleety rain ?

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Generally healthy adult population doesn’t NEED it AS MUCH and plant products give ample proteins.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Ordinary people in days of yore might have existed on a mess of pottage but I think we can be fairly sure they were envious of the meaty diet of the rich. Thanks to capitalism, we’re a lot richer as a society these days so, naturally, we’re eating more meat.
The good news is that as societies become richer the birth rate falls, so it looks as if there is a natural limit to the global population.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

We have 30 yrs and 2 billion more to add before it finally falls

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

We have 30 yrs and 2 billion more to add before it finally falls

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Fewer people in the world are hungry today precisely because of intensive ag production and the massive spike in yield per acre. Intensive ag has issues, but it has also saved many people from starvation.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago

Excuse my ignorance and I know I could have “Googled” for the answer but why can’t you keep chickens in a potato field?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Diet requirements depend upon work and conditions one lives in. The developing brain needs protein.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Ordinary people in days of yore might have existed on a mess of pottage but I think we can be fairly sure they were envious of the meaty diet of the rich. Thanks to capitalism, we’re a lot richer as a society these days so, naturally, we’re eating more meat.
The good news is that as societies become richer the birth rate falls, so it looks as if there is a natural limit to the global population.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

Ordinary people in the old days only ate what they farmed & grew . A lot of pottage ( stew) which did consist meat and a lot of grains and vegetables was consumed . It was mostly plant based with meat as supplement rather than meat as main stay. They did not consume steaks, whole chicken breast & fish fillets etc the way we do now.
Small scale chicken and meat farming is totally harmless and even beneficial. But how do you feed such a large population as of the world today with meat since they are not looking for pottages of the past, but burgers and chicken nuggets & to produce this only way is intensive animal farming !
Comparing chicken with potato farming is totally ridiculous, although I agree it should be cleaned up too. A field of potatoes would feed a lot more people than a field of the same size kept for chickens.
There is no logic to intensive animal farming in the future when we are still on our way to a mammoth 10billion population. The sooner the younger generations get used to low meat/vegetarian/vegan diet the better they will adapt to the growing disruption which will occur due to climate issues. Teach your children well for in the future they will have to get by.

Lukas Nel
Lukas Nel
1 year ago

Chemical farming is however indispensable to maintain society as we know it. Organic farming tends to be terribly expensive and not nearly as efficient. Chicken is already expensive why would you want to make it a reserve of the rich only?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago
Reply to  Lukas Nel

They need to find a reasonable way to capture the phosphates before they run off into the river. As for human waste, you would think there’s a better way to handled it.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

In the Wye valley(and other places) NIMBYs have been fighting the establishment of Hydroponic Units. In theory there is no run-off because it should be a closed-cycle-system. I haven’t got any figures to hand but Welsh Water has spent a lot of my money getting their act together. No smell at their buoys off Cardiff and Barry (pity about the dffusers in Barry Roads) but we can’t have everything, especially looking at next year’s prices.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

PS With more Hydroponics we might not have had the shortages, mainly of salad veg, presently being reported in the ‘Remoaner’ press and erroniously attributed to Brexit. No shortages found in my supermarkets in Newport (Gwent) but then I’m a seasonal-veg man with a freezer back-up. I see reports of a rasberry shortage somewhere in England. Gasp, Stagger, Swoon. I’ll just have to make do with what’s left of my own-garden-grown blackberries.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

PS With more Hydroponics we might not have had the shortages, mainly of salad veg, presently being reported in the ‘Remoaner’ press and erroniously attributed to Brexit. No shortages found in my supermarkets in Newport (Gwent) but then I’m a seasonal-veg man with a freezer back-up. I see reports of a rasberry shortage somewhere in England. Gasp, Stagger, Swoon. I’ll just have to make do with what’s left of my own-garden-grown blackberries.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

In the Wye valley(and other places) NIMBYs have been fighting the establishment of Hydroponic Units. In theory there is no run-off because it should be a closed-cycle-system. I haven’t got any figures to hand but Welsh Water has spent a lot of my money getting their act together. No smell at their buoys off Cardiff and Barry (pity about the dffusers in Barry Roads) but we can’t have everything, especially looking at next year’s prices.

Septima Williams
Septima Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  Lukas Nel

There is surely little efficient about chemical farming – a system which is destroying the environment in which it exists and the medium it uses for growth. Never mind the effect of the chemicals on human health and, as ever, the wealthy can choose what they eat and the poor are the ones affected without any decision being made on their part.
Organic farming is supremely efficient, nourishing the soil in the process of production and the environment is cared for in the process. There are, of course, good and bad farmers of all stripes.
Organic chicken is very expensive, it’s true. However we are not rich and we eat meat little and often. But this doesn’t really help the poor. I’m afraid we’ve got ourselves into a situation from which it’ll be very difficult to back-track. As The Wurzels might have said, ‘Thee got ‘en where thee cassn’t back’n ‘assn’t?’ Monbiot has no answers.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago
Reply to  Lukas Nel

They need to find a reasonable way to capture the phosphates before they run off into the river. As for human waste, you would think there’s a better way to handled it.

Septima Williams
Septima Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  Lukas Nel

There is surely little efficient about chemical farming – a system which is destroying the environment in which it exists and the medium it uses for growth. Never mind the effect of the chemicals on human health and, as ever, the wealthy can choose what they eat and the poor are the ones affected without any decision being made on their part.
Organic farming is supremely efficient, nourishing the soil in the process of production and the environment is cared for in the process. There are, of course, good and bad farmers of all stripes.
Organic chicken is very expensive, it’s true. However we are not rich and we eat meat little and often. But this doesn’t really help the poor. I’m afraid we’ve got ourselves into a situation from which it’ll be very difficult to back-track. As The Wurzels might have said, ‘Thee got ‘en where thee cassn’t back’n ‘assn’t?’ Monbiot has no answers.

Lukas Nel
Lukas Nel
1 year ago

Chemical farming is however indispensable to maintain society as we know it. Organic farming tends to be terribly expensive and not nearly as efficient. Chicken is already expensive why would you want to make it a reserve of the rich only?

Felice Camino
Felice Camino
1 year ago

Over the course of 2020 and 2021 I walked The Three Choirs Way, in stages, a route which passes through Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. It does not cross the Wye at all but instead goes close to it ( a couple of miles apart) for a good distance.
In the area around Much Markle where there is intensive agriculture (no chicken units) a LOT of maize is grown for cattle food. And those maize fields are fertilised using slurry. In the spring, the slurry was wet and being washed off into the drainage ditches. In the autumn there was a hard crust of slurry on the maize fields, which on a damp day left my shoes absolutely stinking.
So maybe add cattle slurry to the list of polluters?

Felice Camino
Felice Camino
1 year ago

Over the course of 2020 and 2021 I walked The Three Choirs Way, in stages, a route which passes through Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. It does not cross the Wye at all but instead goes close to it ( a couple of miles apart) for a good distance.
In the area around Much Markle where there is intensive agriculture (no chicken units) a LOT of maize is grown for cattle food. And those maize fields are fertilised using slurry. In the spring, the slurry was wet and being washed off into the drainage ditches. In the autumn there was a hard crust of slurry on the maize fields, which on a damp day left my shoes absolutely stinking.
So maybe add cattle slurry to the list of polluters?

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago

“reading the spate of reports regarding its imminent death is like receiving bad news about a friend.” I feel just the same. In the late 50s/early 60s I used to fish the upper Wye (just south of Builth) weekly, only for coarse fish, couldn’t afford the salmon fees. My memory is of the most idyllic river, quintessentially English (despite being Welsh!) and clear as what comes from my tap and teeming with big chub, barbel, dace, grayling, perch. It was a place to escape to, where life could be parked for a day. It breaks my heart to think of it as described here.
The global warming panic distracts us from what should be our main concern – the environment and what we are doing to it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Rees
Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago

“reading the spate of reports regarding its imminent death is like receiving bad news about a friend.” I feel just the same. In the late 50s/early 60s I used to fish the upper Wye (just south of Builth) weekly, only for coarse fish, couldn’t afford the salmon fees. My memory is of the most idyllic river, quintessentially English (despite being Welsh!) and clear as what comes from my tap and teeming with big chub, barbel, dace, grayling, perch. It was a place to escape to, where life could be parked for a day. It breaks my heart to think of it as described here.
The global warming panic distracts us from what should be our main concern – the environment and what we are doing to it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Rees
Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

10,000,000 immigrants in 10 years? could that be part of it? I guess not if this guy says the Romans were already killing the river. Anyway, as Minobot and Claus would say

”Eat The Bugs’

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Yawn

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Not so many immigrants in the Wye area because it’s pretty rural.

You have to ask, “Why the Wye?” There are a lot of other rivers around the place and plenty of chicken farmers.

Of all the water authorities in the UK, Welsh Water is about the worst – in the sense of additives and taste. The additives are necessary to protect the consumers from everything the farmers use. So the water always tastes of chlorine and you are advised to let it stand for a few hours before drinking it.

The catchment area of Welsh Water is excessively rural. Perhaps this is the answer to my question.

Vici C
Vici C
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

The ten million extra people in UK do not have to live in the Wye area to have an effect.

Vici C
Vici C
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

The ten million extra people in UK do not have to live in the Wye area to have an effect.

eric james
eric james
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

This about the river Wye.Perhaps you have not read properly.Moron

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  eric james

Actually it’s about a broader issue: the impact of agricultural effluent on freshwater ecosystems. Moron.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  eric james

Welsh Water Dwr Cwmru is responsible for at least part of the Wye, even where it forms part of the boundary between England and Wales.There are many different catchment areas. The Wye and Usk are connected by a syphon system so I can never be sure what i’m drinking. The water is very soft. Newport (Gwent) and Glasgow used to have the highest UK Heart Disease figures because of the lack of minerals in their water supply. My father used to boil water, let it cool and then top-up the car batteries. Cardiff’s water supply is used on my boat for washing dishes and decks (and flushing the toilet). Chris W lives in the North in a completely different catchment area and has my sympathy waterwise

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  eric james

Actually it’s about a broader issue: the impact of agricultural effluent on freshwater ecosystems. Moron.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  eric james

Welsh Water Dwr Cwmru is responsible for at least part of the Wye, even where it forms part of the boundary between England and Wales.There are many different catchment areas. The Wye and Usk are connected by a syphon system so I can never be sure what i’m drinking. The water is very soft. Newport (Gwent) and Glasgow used to have the highest UK Heart Disease figures because of the lack of minerals in their water supply. My father used to boil water, let it cool and then top-up the car batteries. Cardiff’s water supply is used on my boat for washing dishes and decks (and flushing the toilet). Chris W lives in the North in a completely different catchment area and has my sympathy waterwise

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

b****r Off!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Yawn

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Not so many immigrants in the Wye area because it’s pretty rural.

You have to ask, “Why the Wye?” There are a lot of other rivers around the place and plenty of chicken farmers.

Of all the water authorities in the UK, Welsh Water is about the worst – in the sense of additives and taste. The additives are necessary to protect the consumers from everything the farmers use. So the water always tastes of chlorine and you are advised to let it stand for a few hours before drinking it.

The catchment area of Welsh Water is excessively rural. Perhaps this is the answer to my question.

eric james
eric james
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

This about the river Wye.Perhaps you have not read properly.Moron

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

b****r Off!

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

10,000,000 immigrants in 10 years? could that be part of it? I guess not if this guy says the Romans were already killing the river. Anyway, as Minobot and Claus would say

”Eat The Bugs’

Eleanor Burt
Eleanor Burt
1 year ago

Veganic growing (otherwise known as ‘stockfree’ organic growing) is done without holding captive and exploiting nonhuman animals. Have a look at the Vegan Growers Network website, <https://veganorganic.net/&gt;.
For many years I grew my own fruit and vegetables and I always grew veganically. I had delicious, healthy, cruelty-free food, and such good volumes that I frequently gave surplus to friends and neighbours.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Eleanor Burt

Thanks for the humble brag.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Eleanor Burt

Thanks for the humble brag.

Eleanor Burt
Eleanor Burt
1 year ago

Veganic growing (otherwise known as ‘stockfree’ organic growing) is done without holding captive and exploiting nonhuman animals. Have a look at the Vegan Growers Network website, <https://veganorganic.net/&gt;.
For many years I grew my own fruit and vegetables and I always grew veganically. I had delicious, healthy, cruelty-free food, and such good volumes that I frequently gave surplus to friends and neighbours.

Eleanor Burt
Eleanor Burt
1 year ago

There is no need to hold captive and exploit nonhuman animals in order to produce food. It is possible to grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs using veganic methods (also known as ‘stockfree’ growing). Have a look at https://veganorganic.net/
I have grown my own food this way for years, producing delicious, healthy, cruelty-free food, and with surplus available to friends and neighbours.

Eleanor Burt
Eleanor Burt
1 year ago

There is no need to hold captive and exploit nonhuman animals in order to produce food. It is possible to grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs using veganic methods (also known as ‘stockfree’ growing). Have a look at https://veganorganic.net/
I have grown my own food this way for years, producing delicious, healthy, cruelty-free food, and with surplus available to friends and neighbours.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

Pushing veganism as a way to save the environment is like an addict switching from one drug to another. You’re just trading one set of side-effects for another, arguably better one. Concentrated industrial farming of any type, meat, grain, or veg, is going to have profound environmental consequences of one type or another. The only way to completely eliminate these problems would be to eliminate almost all modern farming practices. The only problem with that is well, people need food, and the practices this and other authors routinely criticize have had a lot to do with increasing crop yields in the past two hundred years and largely eliminating hunger and starvation for most of humanity. One hopes to find solutions through technology that improves industrial farming enough to mitigate its environmental effects, because the only other solution is mass starvation. I’ll repeat this for anyone that didn’t get it. The choice is between accepting that there will be some consequences from industrial farming or accepting millions of people starving. Not, to my mind, a particularly tough call.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri
Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree that mono-crops (animals and non) are an issue that exacerbates all the issues we have with the environment (non-humans and humans), however, it is so important to put these conversations into perspective. 77% of the land that we use for agriculture is devoted to animal agriculture in the world. If you check the UK government’s National Food Strategy, the map in Part 2 Carbon Brief, you soon realise that at least 51% of the land in the UK is used for animal agriculture, and a minuscule percentage of land is used for fruits, vegetables, and other crops (not only the land in the UK, but also the land abroad that the UK uses to feed itself). Fewer animals mean more space for rewilded areas as we reduce grasslands to feed animals and land to grow their crops. People don’t put into perspective that we need the same fertilizers to grow food for animals (or food, depending on how you see it). The part in the article that says “But you could close all the IPUs in the Wye catchment area and turn them over to cabbage production for vegans, and you would still have phosphates streaming into the river.” Yes, sure, but the amounts will be unequivocally less as you are removing both the phosphate, and other chemicals in the pee and poo of animals, but also the fertilizers needed to grow their food, reducing land use (so less land area that receives fertilizers). The fertilizers needed will be much much less and the rivers and other natural systems will be able to reabsorb nutrients better. We can use the pee and poo of animals to nourish our crops and their crops, but still, the number of these animals needs to be reduced to around 9/10!

Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri
Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree that mono-crops (animals and non) are an issue that exacerbates all the issues we have with the environment (non-humans and humans), however, it is so important to put these conversations into perspective. 77% of the land that we use for agriculture is devoted to animal agriculture in the world. If you check the UK government’s National Food Strategy, the map in Part 2 Carbon Brief, you soon realise that at least 51% of the land in the UK is used for animal agriculture, and a minuscule percentage of land is used for fruits, vegetables, and other crops (not only the land in the UK, but also the land abroad that the UK uses to feed itself). Fewer animals mean more space for rewilded areas as we reduce grasslands to feed animals and land to grow their crops. People don’t put into perspective that we need the same fertilizers to grow food for animals (or food, depending on how you see it). The part in the article that says “But you could close all the IPUs in the Wye catchment area and turn them over to cabbage production for vegans, and you would still have phosphates streaming into the river.” Yes, sure, but the amounts will be unequivocally less as you are removing both the phosphate, and other chemicals in the pee and poo of animals, but also the fertilizers needed to grow their food, reducing land use (so less land area that receives fertilizers). The fertilizers needed will be much much less and the rivers and other natural systems will be able to reabsorb nutrients better. We can use the pee and poo of animals to nourish our crops and their crops, but still, the number of these animals needs to be reduced to around 9/10!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

Pushing veganism as a way to save the environment is like an addict switching from one drug to another. You’re just trading one set of side-effects for another, arguably better one. Concentrated industrial farming of any type, meat, grain, or veg, is going to have profound environmental consequences of one type or another. The only way to completely eliminate these problems would be to eliminate almost all modern farming practices. The only problem with that is well, people need food, and the practices this and other authors routinely criticize have had a lot to do with increasing crop yields in the past two hundred years and largely eliminating hunger and starvation for most of humanity. One hopes to find solutions through technology that improves industrial farming enough to mitigate its environmental effects, because the only other solution is mass starvation. I’ll repeat this for anyone that didn’t get it. The choice is between accepting that there will be some consequences from industrial farming or accepting millions of people starving. Not, to my mind, a particularly tough call.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Mainly, people who would consider themselves patriots.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Mainly, people who would consider themselves patriots.