30th June 2016

This year has seen more river-damaging activity than we can recall. The current trend is to plough up old pastures and steep slopes, replant with grass or change to potatoes, maize or turnips and the consequences have been dire (also, please see 3rd June e-news).

The latest incident involves a slope adjacent to the A44 in Radnorshire, pictures of which are opposite (NRW Wye North bank team please note). The three photos tell the story: an extremely steep slope has been ploughed and the subsequent rain has washed the rather thin soil off the hill, across the main road (which had to be closed), down through the field below and into the Summersgill Brook. From there, it will make its way into the Lugg via the Hindwell, a stream that has just become a salmon spawning area again.

Looking at the slope, it's more of a gradient associated with skiing, rather than farming. In a way, you've got to take your hat off - ploughing what would probably qualify as a black run is some achievement and the risks involved must be significant. Apparently, the tractor could not be turned round on any part of the field, having to go up and reverse back down instead. Totting up the damage, we have:

  • A blocked main road and danger to motorists - the landslide went over a fast, twisty section of road that is frequently used by motorcyclists
  • Costs for clearing it once and again if/when it rains
  • Permanent loss of soil from that hill: it may never recover.
  • A very silty and damaged river (in-filled spawning gravels, smothered fish eggs and adverse impacts on invertebrates), likely to worsen with every additional rainfall until either the soil is exhausted or vegetation regrows.

Buffer strips would not have prevented this. In the top photo you can just about make out another steep field that has been ploughed. Although nowhere near as steep as the right hand side, this field has a sizeable buffer but it did not prevent soil washing into the field below. And yes, this is happening all over the Welsh uplands.

Are there regulations that prevent this grant aided environmental vandalism? And who pays the cost? In answer to the last question, of course, we all do. We don't yet know if NRW are taking any action but we will let you know as soon as we do.

In the meantime, please would you all write to the First Minister and ask him to do something to stop this destruction of our environment. He was

A typical hill used for rough grazing.

A view of the ploughed section.

The mudslide crossing the road and into the nearest brook. Visions of the third world? The bus and lorry on the road give you an idea of scale.

once the Environment Minister and his Government's Wellbeing Of Our Future Generations Act (this became law in April 2016) seeks to end unsustainable development.

What of the future? Exiting the EU may take years and could distract attention away from these issues. No longer will there be an ultimate sanction for failure to meet the standards set by the Water Framework or Habitats Directives.

Despite this, we are working with our partners to promote the good practices of those local farmers who are improving the health of their soils. A series of videos on the Farm Herefordshire initiative can be viewed on the Wye Catchment Partnership website here.

All the best from WUF.


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Rainfall at Llanstephan 2016 to date: 22" ('15: 28", '14: 54", '13: 39", '12: 47", '11: 29")

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