Follow the STAR this Christmas
Enjoy watching the Church of England’s short video called ‘Follow the Star’

Our Wonderful River Wye

(The River Wye seen from the banks of St Dubricius, Whitchurch)

For many of us the River Wye is a source of delight and joy; and watching holiday makers canoeing and swimming you could believe that all is well with the Wye. But what is really going on with our much loved river? Unfortunately, the issue related to pollution.

The pollution problems in the lower Wye come mainly from two sources. Sewage, combined sewage overflows (CSOs), and excess nutrients. The first is the easiest to understand. Sewage treatment operators almost everywhere in the country are often deliberately pumping raw untreated sewage into our rivers, streams and even lakes. This is only allowed under exceptional licenced circumstances when treatment works are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of water that comes with heavy and prolonged rainfall. But CSOs all too often occur during periods of drought when no rain affects them. Water companies are always reluctant to make this public knowledge and rarely admit to it happening or give any explanation. The truth is that the privatised water companies have underinvested in their water treatment infrastructure for decades and now the increased demands from climate change and increased numbers of housing developments, mean that they can no longer cope when under pressure. But this does not explain why it happened during periods of drought. There is only one answer. Poor management and poor maintenance. 

The other main reason for river pollution is excess nutrients (mainly phosphates and nitrates) getting into our rivers. It never used to happen, so why now?  Phosphorus compounds are essential to all forms of life on earth, be they animals or vegetables. We could just not exist without them. All land will contain natural levels of phosphate, and this varies with the local geology. So, what is the problem? 

The problem has arisen with the growth of intensive farming practices. To grow more crops and raise more animals on a given area of farmland, requires more fertiliser. Far more than ever before. Farmers must now import mineral phosphates from the US, Morocco or Russia. Alternatively, they can use the vast amounts of slurry, waste from animals kept in farm buildings, or from the waste from vegetable crops. Stalks and leave etc. In fact, even this is not enough, and some farmers must now grow crops specifically to aid the production of gas and fertilisers in anaerobic digesters.  

We all know that fertilisers are spread on farmland, but where farms employ intensive rearing practices on a relatively small amount of land, they will be producing more fertiliser, and slurry, which is sufficient for their own purpose. Intensive chicken farms are a particular problem here. This excess fertiliser must then be transported to use elsewhere, however, because transporting slurry more than a mile or two is impractical and too costly, it is often applied to the local land in far greater quantities than can be taken up by the crops it is there to nourish. Most of this excess will remain in the top levels of soil. During wet weather, it is either washed directly off the land or dissolved in rainwater and dissipates into the soil. Either way, it will drain into our streams, eventually finding its way into our rivers.  

The excess phosphate that builds up in the soil is known as legacy phosphate. It builds up year upon year. Some say that if no more fertiliser was applied, the legacy could last twenty or more years before it leaches out or is all taken up by plants in the normal way. 

Herefordshire and Gwent have exceptionally high numbers of intensive chicken farms. Chicken faeces contain five times the concentration of phosphates than that of other animals. It has been calculated that the amount of excess fertiliser leaching into the river Wye is equivalent to dumping 2,000 tonnes of chicken guano off a Hereford bridge every year.  But that is only the source and we have still not discussed the effect on the river Wye. 

Excessive phosphates and nitrates are not directly harmful to fish and aquatic life although they can cause some minor growth limitations to fish and some types of water weeds. The main problem comes when high phosphate loads are combined with sunlight and unusually high-water temperatures. Amounts of naturally occurring and harmless algae in the river water will suddenly increase exponentially until all the available nutrients are used up.  The now green-coloured water will cut off the life-giving sunlight from the water weed growing in the riverbed, which is mostly water crowfoot, ranunculus in the Wye. The ranunculus will die and the invertebrates and other lifeforms that the weed supports will go with it. Gone also is a major food source for invertebrates, fish and some birds and animals that depend upon it. Gone is the shelter from sunlight and a safe haven from predators. 

It might not end there. When the algae have consumed all the nutrients in the river water, it dies, turns from green to brown, and decomposes. Bacterial action associated with its decomposition can quickly remove ALL oxygen from the water causing a total aquatic ecological collapse. 

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Prayers for Ukraine
A statement by Archbishops (Justin Welby & Stephen Cottrell) “The horrific and unprovoked attach on Ukraine is an act of great evil. Placing our trust in Jesus Christ, the author of peace, we pray for an urgent ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian forces. We call for a public decision to choose the way of peace and an international conference to secure long term agreements for stability and lasting peace“. Dated 24th February 2022. You can pray the prayer for the Ukraine here.

Bishops Richard’s vision for Hereford Diocese:
What this video to see the vision Bishop Richard has for Hereford Diocese.

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