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Home / Sporting Events / Fishing / The disgusting scale of man made pollution killing Wales’ rivers

The disgusting scale of man made pollution killing Wales’ rivers

Wales’ rivers are currently under attack by constant pollution.

The waterways around Cymru are beset with sewage, agricultural waste and dumping.

WalesOnline has spoke to river users to reveal the true scale of the issues facing Wales’ rivers.

How bad it the problem?

The simple answer is that it depends on where in Wales you are.

This map shows the concentrations of pollution over the last eight years:

Agricultural incidents in water in Wales for the last eight years
(Image: Natural Resources Wales)

Plenty of incidents have been reported in Wales this year alone.

For instance a Carmarthen a farmer took this photo of a dead calf in a nearby river.

“There were two of them,” he said. “They didn’t have tags. I am confident they were chucked in the river.

“I have also seen bags of rubbish thrown in, and bits of butchered pigs.”

Submitted image of a calf believed to have been dumped in a river in west Carmarthenshire

In July the river Towy was found to be filled with what seemed to be a white a soapy detergent.

The white substance has been pouring into the River Towy in Carmarthen
(Image: Carmarthen Coracle Netsmen’s Association)

A matter of weeks ago human waste was pouring into the River Tawe at Trebanos sewage treatment works in Swansea.

Welsh Water said this was because too much water got into the sewer, meaning it has to be released back into rivers or the sea without the usual treatment.

Only this week silt from an opencast site on the river Cynnon left the river filthy and cloudy.

Silt in the river Cynnon

The river Cynnon

It is not just in the south and west of the country.

The Llyn Cefni Reservoir in Anglesey and the Afon Cegin river in Snowdonia were found this year to be contaminated with microplastics from items including car tyres and clothing.

This video shows raw, untreated sewage pouring into the River Conwy in Llanrwst in May this year:


What are river users saying?

Experienced anglers say they report issues but Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the body responsible for policing the rivers and ensuring the quality of the water, have been unresponsive.

Darren Williams, 51 from Mountain Ash, is an international fly fisherman.

He said: “I have been reporting pollution in the Cynon, it is an ongoing problem.

“It did improve but now it is getting worse again.

I have track it right back to Hirwaun to where two streams run from the old colliery.

A map of rivers in South and West Wales
(Image: Image supplied by Natural Resources Wales)

“It is not my responsibility to track it or point the finger – that is Natural Resources Wales’ job.

“I have been reporting it all year. I am part of the angling club in Abercynon and a lot of people have been reporting these issues to me.

“The pollution in the river now is as bad as I have seen it for a long time.

“We have had little rain so there is no way it could have run off into the river unless someone has put it there.

“It is disgusting, someone had put that pollution in the river. You can’t fish in the river at the moment because it is stinking – disgusting to look at.

“I am used to that river been crystal clear. I can usually see 5ft down to the bottom.”

The frustration many anglers feels that even when action is taken, the fines are measly.

In December 2016, 44,000 gallons of slurry leaked into a five mile stretch of the River Teifi in Ceredigion. This led to the death of 18,000 fish including salmon and brown trout.

The company responsible was find £40,000 and of that £15,000 went to restoring the habitat – £20,000 went on NRW’s costs.

Thousands of fish have been killed due to a major pollution incident in the River Clywedog near Wrexham in 2018
(Image: North Wales Daily Post)

Fisherman Terry Bromwell 37, from Pontypridd, is the current Welsh Rivers Champion. He says he often reports issues but nothing is done.

He said: “How can they take £20,000 costs? 18,000 fish died!

“I have reported it, Natural Resources Wales will not get in touch with me. It’s ridiculous. They are not interested, they don’t even fine people these days.

“It is financially worthwhile for people to dump in the rivers.

“Why are they not doing anything? They always say that ‘it is going to take a while’. Do your job!

“I point the finger at Welsh Government for combining the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales, and the Forestry Commission Wales. They have made it one body and it doesn’t have a clue.

“When you report it nothing is done. You get an incident number and two or three days later they arrive and by then it’s flushed through.”

What does the pollution do?

Slurry getting spread on a field

When you think of pollution you probably think of the classic shopping trolley.

However, what is far more damaging is the result of high intensity farming.

Richard Williams is part of Salmon and Trout Conservation Cymru. According to him it is these farming practices which are causing the issues.

He said: “Chicken poo is collected in wood shavings. It is more concentrated than manure.

“It is high in phosphates. People have heard about nitrates getting into a river but phosphates can be worse.

“Nitrates remain in solution and wash through whereas phosphates are absorbed into the river bed. These are a nutrient which in extreme cases create blue green algae which is toxic – that is an extreme example.

The waste from chick farms causes a lot of damage
(Image: Darren Quinton/Coventry Telegraph)

“You can get what are called algae blooms. The river Wye has had a bad one this year.

“Because of the respiration of the algae it takes oxygen out of the water and stops light reaching the depths.”

On top of nutrients altering the river there is also the problem of silt which can remove the stony beds which are vital for fish to spawn.

Richard added: “When you plough a field and it rains it runs off into the river. All those fine silt particles lodge in the gravel where the fish spawn. That is when you have population issues.”

In many ways our rivers are suffering from death by 1,000 cuts (or is that drips).

Was it always bad?

Yes and no.

In some parts Wales’ rivers are clearer than they have been for centuries. Especially in the valleys, mining had a terrible impact on our water ways.

However the movement from small, family run farms to high intensity farming has created a new crisis.

Writing previously, Richard beautifully illustrated the change.

A pollution incident on the River Cefni, Anglesey, where more than 100 fish died in 2016
(Image: WalesOnline)

He said: “Unlike the iron works and coal pits to the east, the production of milk at that time was largely a naturally sustainable enterprise based on the endeavours of family farms who worked in sympathy with their surroundings and the dictates of the seasons.

“Cattle would be left outdoors to graze for as long as the weather permitted; and when they were finally brought under cover for the winter months they would be bedded on crisp, dry straw and fed sweet, fragrant hay, mown in the surrounding fields and dried by the soft sun of Welsh summers. That is not the case today.

 “Where once were herds of 50, 80 or maybe 100 cattle we now find 250, 500, perhaps even 1,000.

“The hay sheds have been replaced with silage clamps and sand has taken the place of straw as bedding.

“Gone are the middens where manure would slowly decompose before being spread on the fields in late winter and early spring to nourish the first flush of new growth.

“In their place we see enormous lagoons filled with a noxious, nutrient rich, highly mobile, slurry which is produced in such quantities that regular disposal through spreading is required, regardless of conditions or the benefit or otherwise to the land.

“We cannot allow the devastating effects of intensive dairy practices on our rivers to be ignored any longer.”

What do be done about it?

Salmon and Trout Conservation Cymru‘s Mr Williams believes that the only way to combat the attacks on our rivers is through education and enforcement.

“What you need is better enforcement and better education,” he said.

“We have new regulations coming in January but regulation is worthless without the ability to enforce or good will to follow them.”

What do Natural Resources Wales say?

According the the Welsh Government sponsored body they rely on farmers and contractors playing ball.

Bob Vaughan, sustainable land manager for Natural Resources Wales, said: “Too many pollution incidents affect our precious rivers.

“The answer rests with all involved, farmers, landowners, farming unions, anglers, NRW and Welsh Government to work together to tackle the issue. With these partners we are making significant progress on understanding and delivering the answers.

“More can be done to better manage the slurry and other potential pollutants on farms – both by the farmers themselves and by developing innovative new technologies.

“We have appointed a team to visit dairy farms all over Wales to provide advice and guidance and to help landowners reduce the risk of pollution from their land getting into our rivers.

“But we are dependent on individual farmers and contractors taking their responsibility to their communities and to the Welsh environment seriously – and to follow the rules and good practice.

“We cannot be at every farm and every river in Wales 24 hours of every day, but we are helping farmers recognise and deal with the potential pollution risks before they happen. But if pollutions occur we will take action – ranging from warning letters, formal cautions, enforcement undertakings and prosecutions.”

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