The decision for a rigorous judicial assessment into the manner in which the Environment Agency (EA) in England upholds pollution laws within the agriculture sector has been reached. River Action, a pro-environment group, took the case to the High Court in Cardiff, stating that the EA had not adequately safeguarded the River Wye against the ruinous spread of organic manure.
A representative from the EA argued that the agency allocated more resources to combat contamination in the area. Regardless, Justice Lane resolved to move forward with the review, conceding to all points raised by River Action.
During the hearing, advocate for the environmental faction David Wolfe KC argued the river, whose course spans across Wales, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire, was found in an interior state of health. It has been primarily attributed to the overuse of organic manure across fields, as a measure to supplement the burgeoning poultry industry near the river. This maneuver led to a significant increase in phosphorus within the soil.
When rainwater carries this phosphorus into the river, it results in persistent algal blooms, which subsequently drain oxygen, suffocating the diverse riverine flora and fauna, and giving the water an opaque green hue.
It is incumbent on the EA to uphold river pollution laws, specifically the “farming rules for water”, and take legal action wherever necessary. However, inconsistencies between the letter of the law and the state secretary’s interpretation guidance of the law raised concerns in court.
Indeed, these statutory guidelines seemed to permit the use of fertilizers at times otherwise prohibited by law, as inferred by Mr. Wolfe. He further alleged that the EA refrained from legal action as long as adherence to the statutory guidance was followed.
Contrarily, Charles Streeten, representing the EA, contended that while circumstances may prevail in which the agency would not prosecute, it doesn’t negate their legal right to do so. Touting the agency’s efforts, he reported 6,000 incidents of informal enforcement action and 141 formal enforcement cases since April 2021. Furthermore, he indicated that the agency directed additional resources to the Wye region to mitigate pollution.
Upon authorizing proceedings, Justice Lane hinted that the policy might bear significant implications contrary to the letter of the water regulations. He concluded that a thorough perusal and fair understanding might hold significance in the future, even though it doesn’t allow the defendant to elude the charges laid by the claimant.