To preserve the quality of the River Wye on the English/Welsh border, up to 75 poultry producers supplying Avara Foods have been told to stop spreading manure on land.
This comes following the announcement by the Environment Agency earlier this year that it was downgrading the river’s health status to unfavourable/declining.
Up to 24 million birds – a quarter of the UK’s poultry – are raised in its catchment, but high phosphate levels in the river have been linked to waste from poultry farms.
Avara Foods, the largest poultry processor in the region, has announced plans to end the spreading of poultry manure on its farms within the River Wye Special Area of Conservation, requiring its producers to sell the manure to a company that will take it out of the area.
The firm said that, as the largest poultry company in the area, “the onus is on us to manage our supply chain, set an example for others and use what influence we have to support change.”
In a letter to producers, Avara Foods chief executive, Andy Dawkins, said the primary reason for the change was self-evident: “The continued deterioration of the Wye has been well reported and, while the root causes are many and complex, the role of phosphate, from poultry litter in particular, has been a focal point of many campaigns.
“Our long-term aim is unchanged: to support sustainable solutions within the catchment that contribute to circular economies and create additional value from poultry litter. Clearly, these are taking some time to develop, and we are in a position where we need to act urgently while the long-term solutions come to fruition.”
The letter stressed that the measure would not in itself end the pollution problems linked to the river. Pressure group River Action UK welcomed the first tangible action being taken by Avara Foods, saying it was a significant step forward in the campaign to save the Wye, but more needed to be done by other poultry companies.
Charles Watson, River Action founder and chair, said: “Given that even the largest producer in the Wye Catchment is now openly admitting to the role the intensive poultry industry has played in the severe pollution of this magnificent river, it seems extraordinary that Noble Foods – the region’s second-largest poultry-based agri-business – has yet to publish any credible plan to remove its chicken litter from the Wye Catchment.”